Constitutional Law

New Pakistan Court Coup: Military Trials

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As an individual lawyer reportedly challenged, in the country’s highest court, the suspension of Pakistan’s constitutional system of government a little over a week ago, Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, appeared to be a step or two ahead of him.

Yesterday he amended the 1952 Army Act, to allow the army to try citizens in military court, writes Bloomberg. Hence, it appears that Musharraf is now further expanding the influence he exerted on the judicial system Nov. 3 by firing numerous appellate judges, including the chief judge of the supreme court, when the general also declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution. Although Musharraf portrayed the move as a necessary to keep terrorism under control, it is widely perceived as an effort to silence a supreme court that has enforced the rule of law rather than deferring to the military-dominated government.

Meanwhile, Musharraf opponents say the number of individuals arrested since Nov. 3 has risen to 15,000–about triple the number being reported last week.

However, there is no word yet on how many of the arrestees are lawyers. (Some 3,000 of the country’s 12,000 lawyers reportedly were arrested and jailed as of last week, following lawyer-led protests of the new regime.)

To deal with the new constitutional challenge, “(t)he Supreme Court asked the general to respond to a challenge filed by Zafar Mahmood, a lawyer in Islamabad, that the emergency is illegal,” reports Bloomberg.

Worldwide, fellow attorneys have begun to gear up for sympathy protests expected to take place this week in support of the Pakistan attorneys protesting the dismantling of their judicial system. Among those calling for action: ABA President William H. Neukom has asked lawyers to march on Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Neukom and other bar representatives have also urged Musharraf to reinstate the rule of law.

At least one well-known foreign judge is also among the correspondents: reports the Age, an Australian newspaper.

“I urge you to reconsider your government’s recent sinisterly regressive direction and to immediately restore judicial and legal professional independence and the rule of law for the Pakistani people,” wrote Justice Margaret McMurdo to Musharraf. She is president of the Queensland Court of Appeal.

Associated Press (“Pakistan’s legal system creaks back to life as striking lawyers return to courts”).

Christian Science Monitor (“Judiciary issue may unite Pakistan’s divided opposition”).

Kashmir Herald (“Mush-Bush-Benazir rope trick”).

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