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Constitutional Law

5,000 Pakistan Lawyers Reported Arrested

Posted Nov 12, 2007 7:50 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Thousands of lawyers in Pakistan have been jailed during the past 10 days, after the country's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, declared a state of emergency Nov. 3. One of them is Aitzaz Ahsan, a 63-year-old Cambridge University graduate and the president of the country's Supreme Court Bar.

His crime, reports the New York Times: "making too much noise about democracy under the nose of a military ruler who is backed by the United States." Many Pakistani lawyers have also reportedly infuriated Musharraf by supporting the now-ousted chief judge of the supreme court, Iftikhar Chaudhry, who has been under house arrest since Nov. 3.

Although Musharraf justified the state of emergency—and the firing and house arrest of numerous appellate judges—as necessary to combat terrorism, the move is widely seen as an effort to keep the country's supreme court from enforcing the rule of law. Lawyers throughout the world have urged that Chaudhry and the other fired appellate judges be reinstated, and sympathy marches are being organized in the United States this week to show support for their protests.

Among these efforts, Ahsan's son, Ali Ahsan, who is also a lawyer, is to speak at a New York City event tomorrow and ABA President William H. Neukom has called for lawyers to march on Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. For details, see this ABA press release and this earlier ABAJournal.com post.

Estimates of the number of Pakistani lawyers jailed since Nov. 3 vary in news accounts, but it appears clear that they number in the thousands, rather than merely in the hundreds. "In Punjab alone, 1,374 lawyers were arrested across the province Nov. 5, according to the provincial home secretary," the Times writes. Midway through last week, as an earlier ABAJournal.com post discusses, some news accounts reported that 3,000 of the country's 12,000 attorneys had been arrested.

Like the senior Ahsan, Wajid al Jilani is also a distinguished Pakistani attorney with decades of experience—in his case, as an Islamabad criminal defense lawyer. Unlike Ahsan, he is not in jail right now because he is currently running from the law instead of practicing it, reports the Telegraph. (The United Kingdom newspaper attributes to another lawyer in his underground group the news that 5,000 Pakistani attorneys have been arrested since Nov. 3.)

"A leading light in the Islamabad bar association, Mr Jilani is among thousands of lawyers facing the novelty of life as a fugitive as Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf tries to stamp out all internal criticism of his regime," writes the Telegraph, a United Kingdom newspaper. "Their only crime is to have led legal opposition to General Musharraf's attempts to cling to power."

Bizarrely, many lawyers continue to go to court during the day, where arresting them could prove embarrassing, but hide out at night, when authorities are likely to come looking to arrest them, the article says. In addition to legal equipment, they also bring with them to court items such as bedding, food and reading material that would be useful in jail.

"We are not scared of going to jail," says Jiliani, "but if we are arrested there will be no critical voices left in the country."

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