International Law

Pakistan Fires Top Court, Lawyers Protest There and Elsewhere

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The protesters wore conservative business suits today as thousands of lawyers throughout Pakistan clashed with authorities over the suspension of the constitution and the firing of the country’s chief judge, along with numerous other supreme court and appellate judges.

Many of the 17 supreme court judges, including fired Chief Judge Iftikhar Chaudhry, are under house arrest, and judges in the four provincial high courts were also fired by Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, reports the New York Times. Hundreds of protesting lawyers reportedly have been beaten, sprayed with tear gas and arrested.

Describing the situation as “a profound breach of the rule of law,” ABA President William H. Neukom urged Musharraf to reconsider. “President Musharraf sought to justify his actions by citing the threat of terrorism,” Neukom said today in a written statement. “But shutting down a nation’s lawful institutions of justice will hurt, not help, the fight against terrorism.” He called, on the ABA’s behalf, 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.

As discussed in an earlier post, Pakistan’s lawyers have been at the forefront of a national movement this year to impose the rule of law in a country that has traditionally been under military governance. An effort by Musharraf earlier this year to remove Chaudhry from the supreme court resulted in massive lawyer-led protests and his eventual reinstatement. Hence, Musharraf apparently has felt compelled to take his efforts to the next level, imposing what some see as a form of martial law on Saturday, in order to pre-empt the supreme court from potentially invalidating his re-election last month.

Although lawyers led a successful protest the last time around, it remains to be seen, as the New York Times points out, whether lawyers will continue to stand up in the face of arrests by the Musharraf government. In Lahore alone, it appears that as many as 500 to 700 attorneys may be in police custody tonight, according to the newspaper.

The Hindu (“Iftikhar Chaudhry vows fresh struggle against Musharraf”).

The Australian (“Musharraf’s military aid flows on”)

The Times of India (“Embarrassed US takes tougher line on Mush”)

Washington Post (“In Pakistan, Thousands Protest Emergency Rule”)

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