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Pakistan Fires Chief Justice, Arrests Attorneys

Posted Nov 5, 2007 4:34 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Updated: Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, invoked emergency powers on Saturday, suspending the country's constitution and firing the chief justice of its supreme court, who reportedly is under virtual house arrest. Numerous lawyers who protested the move were arrested, and some were also reportedly beaten and sprayed with tear gas by police during demonstrations.

"Police beat lawyers with batons as they came to High Court in the morning. Many of them have been arrested," Akhtar Hussain, a former president of Sindh High Court Bar Association, tells Reuters. Earlier Aitzaz Ahsan, a lawyer who is president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, said he had been detained and called for Musharraf's ouster, reports Reuters in a prior story.

The New York Times reported that about 150 protesting lawyers had been arrested at the High Court in the city of Lahore. (The London Times said 2,000 lawyers joined in a protest there.) An Associated Press reporter who saw lawyers being loaded into police vans puts the number of arrestees closer to 250.

According to the London Times, there have been 1,500 arrests during the past 48 hours, including, but not limited to, lawyers. However, the N.Y. Daily News says the number of arrests since Saturday may be as high as 3,500.

The New York Times reported that "two thirds of the judges in the high courts had resigned or were not invited to be sworn in again under the emergency laws," attributing the information to Feisal Navki, a lawyer who was at a raided meeting. "Only five of the Supreme Court’s 17 judges agreed to take a new oath of office Sunday morning," Navki said.

In Multan, two judges who took office under emergency powers were forced to leave the courtroom after hundreds of lawyers threatened to pelt them with eggs. In Karachi, police forced more than 100 lawyers out of a court compound and then arrested them, Associated Press reports, quoting Rashid Rizvi, a senior lawyer and former judge.

Fired Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is being "held incommunicado" at his home, according to Reuters. He said in a written statement that "It is the duty of all citizens of the country and lawyers in particular to continue their struggle for the supremacy of the constitution, rule of law, independence of judiciary and real democracy."

Although Musharraf attributed his imposition of martial law to terrorism concerns, many contend he was more likely motivated by a desire to prevent the supreme court from potentially invalidating his re-election. The court was scheduled to reconvene today to consider whether Musharraf had a right to run for re-election last month while serving as chief of the country's army.

In a speech following his declaration of a state of emergency on Saturday, Musharraf described the government as being in "semi-paralysis," reports the Times of India. The newspaper said Musharraf's emergency rule order "accused parts of the judiciary of 'working at cross-purposes' with his government in combating terrorism; cited 'constant interference' by the courts in government policy; and accused some judges of 'overstepping the limits of judicial authority.' "

Chaudhry, as detailed in earlier ABAJournal.com posts, had been suspended by Musharraf earlier this year, leading to massive, attorney-led public protests and his eventual reinstatement. He is viewed as a proponent of the rule of law likely to stand up to Musharraf in court decisions.

He was described by the Times of India's article as a thorn in Musharraf's side.

Story updated on 11/5/2007 at 1:06 PM.

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