Cutting through the bullshit.

Sunday 18 March 2007

Lawyers take to streets

Lawyers take to streets

Lawyers and others have confronted riot cops and the army on the streets of Islamabad since President General Pervez Musharraf dismissed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on 9 March on allegations of misconduct and abuse of authority.

But outrage has built up quickly over what some consider a blatant ploy to get rid of a judge whose rulings had embarrassed the government, and to ensure a quiescent judiciary ahead of elections later this year. There is speculation that the Supreme Court, under Chaudhry, might not look favorably on an attempt by Musharraf to seek reelection while hanging on to his post as army chief.

Chaudhry also had angered Pakistan's powerful intelligence agencies by insisting they answer allegations that they had detained more than 100 people listed as missing.

Although Pakistani leaders have a history of using the judiciary for their own ends, the move to oust Chaudhry prompted lawyers and other activists to take to the streets, here in the capital and in other cities such as Lahore. Protests continued to grow as reports came in of Chaudhry being put under virtual house arrest and denied access to his lawyers.

Analysts say the strength of public opposition to Chaudhry's removal has caught Musharraf by surprise.

On Friday, news media broadcast scenes of police violently dispersing the protesters assembled at the Supreme Court in downtown Islamabad, where Chaudhry had gone to defend himself in a hearing before a judicial panel. Afterward, there were signs that Musharraf was beginning to backpedal.

A Supreme Court panel ordered that restrictions on Chaudhry's movements be lifted. The court also acknowledged his complaint of being manhandled by police and ordered the officers to explain their actions.

"General Musharraf and his legal advisors should have realized that a judge who believed that public interest and public welfare could only be gauged and served through representative institutions would be a serious threat to his version of democracy," columnist Khalid Jawed Khan wrote in a scathing opinion piece in Friday's edition of the Dawn newspaper. "The general has never been so vulnerable."

The Washington Post reports, further,

The protests were broadcast live on the independent television station Geo TV, and riot police stormed the station's Islamabad office during the protests in an attempt to shut it down. Geo TV representatives said the police released tear gas in the office, roughed up the station's journalists and trashed furniture.

Musharraf later apologized in a live interview with Geo.

"It was a very sad incident. It should have not happened, and I condemn it," he said, adding, "The culprits responsible for it must be identified, and action against them must be taken."

It remains to be seen whether the General will arrange for his own arrest.

Witnesses at the scene said that police used tear gas, rubber bullets and baton charges in an attempt to disperse the crowd and that they arrested numerous opposition leaders. Dozens of opposition members, as well as lawyers from across the country, had also been detained overnight in advance of the rally.

Among those arrested were Qazi Hussain Ahmad, a leader of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, which is a coalition of far-right Islamic parties, and Rafiq Tarar, a former president of Pakistan who was detained during a rally in Lahore.

Information Minister Tariq Azim Khan defended the arrests, saying that demonstrators were blocking traffic and clashing with police.

"We have to ensure that nobody is above the law," he said. "It doesn't matter if they're political leaders. Anybody who takes the law into their own hands, they have to face the consequences."

Anyone who’s ever been in Islamabad will know that when it comes to obstructing traffic, some people are most assuredly above the law. When Musharraf’s convoy comes into town from his ‘Camp Office’ the other side of Rawalpindi in Chaklala, nothing much moves.


  1. From a friend in Islamabad:

    'the situation is quite tense. The lawyers have boycotted the courts in almost all major cities in the four provinces of Pakistan. The country is in a legal limbo, because it lacks a legitimate Chief Justice –the current one is “provisional” though there is no provision that would legitimize his designation, so that any sentence of the current Supreme Court will certainly be declared null and void by any future government, or at least may be contested and, thus, become a source of further litigation. Moreover, the lawyers are on permanent strike, so no real legal business is taking place at the moment. The opposition parties have taken up the cause of the defense of an independent judiciary, and so did the press. Musharraf is under siege and he knows it: he is already talking of internal conspiracies –something he would never mention before- and you only have to look at the photographs of his in the papers since the whole story began; nowhere will you see him smiling: tight lips and a tense face is all that you will see. Quite noticeable. I do not think that this heralds M.’s demise. But his curve is on the descent. From now on it will be downwards, because the unsolved issues keep piling up and the man will either have to throw away his argument of “enlightenment” or give up his military position –something which sooner rather than later will bring about his downfall. Interesting times here in Pakistan.'

  2. And another,

    'the mussarraf governnment seems to be in a bit of turmoil but much as I would LOVE for him to LEAVE he is as stubborn as a mule and i'm sure he will not leave anytime soon ...did you read reports of the attack on our tv channel GEO by the police --- that was just horrible and day before yesterday there were helicopters patrolling the skies of Islamabad...I feel like going and joing the rioting but as you are probably aware most pakistanis are apolitical restricting their sentiments to living-room gossip. Watching tv however has been thoroughly entertaining over the past couple of days with politicans bringing out their dirty laundry in public and govt and opposition being plain vulgur live on tv...anyhow lets see what happens.'