International Law

25 Percent of Pakistan's Lawyers Arrested; Fired Top Judge Urges Defiance

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Under house arrest but having somehow gained access to a cell phone, the ousted chief judge of the Pakistan supreme court urged the country’s lawyers today to continue to defy a state of emergency imposed by Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, on Saturday.

“The lawyers should convey my message to the people to rise up and restore the Constitution,” Iftikhar Chaudhry urged lawyers by speakerphone at an Islamabad Bar Association meeting, reports the New York Times, before his cell phone connection was cut off. “I am under arrest now, but soon I will also join you in your struggle,” Chaudhry said. So far, although lawyers have turned out en masse, their protests have appeared to lack popular support, the Times notes.

“About 3,000 Pakistani lawyers, rounded up since Saturday, sit in jails across the country with no courts operating to which they can seek release,” reports CNN, explaining that Pakistan’s courts are in virtual “lockdown.” The country has approximately 12,000 lawyers. CNN also reports that police were promised a cash bounty for beating and arresting lawyers in Lahore, where much of the protesting has occurred.

Thousands of lawyers have been protesting Musharraf’s suspension of the Pakistan constitution and firing of many appellate judges, and hundreds have been arrested in clashes with authorities during the past 72 hours, as detailed in an earlier post. Although the president says he declared what many see as a form of martial law in order to combat terrorism, the move is commonly understood as an attempt to prevent the supreme court—many of whose judges have been fired by Musharraf—from ruling that his re-election last month, while he remains in the military, is unconstitutional.

Already, a group of eight replacement judges on the supreme court has “set aside” a finding by the former supreme court that Musharraf’s state of emergency is unconstitutional, according to the Associated Press.

Although U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has criticized the state of emergency and called for Musharraf to schedule new parliamentary elections as soon as possible, only the Netherlands reportedly has exerted financial leverage against Pakistan by withdrawing monetary aid.

“The United States, Pakistan’s chief foreign donor, says it is reviewing aid to the Muslim nation but appeared unlikely to cut military assistance to its close ally in the so-called war on terror. U.S. aid to Pakistan has totaled more than $10 billion since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in America,” the AP article states.

As discussed in another post, ABA President William H. Neukom called for governments, bar associations and “other civil society organizations” to support the rule of law “by using every peaceful, legal means” to persuade Musharraf to change his mind about the emergency measures.

Spiegel Online (“Washington’s Pakistan Problem”)

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