Constitutional Law

Pakistan Judges Freed by New Prime Minister

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In his first act as Pakistan’s new prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani today freed the country’s deposed supreme court chief justice and some 60 other jurists from the house arrest under which they have been held since November.

“This is a historic moment, ushering in an era of democracy that we must seize and never lose again,” said Gilani, in a speech immediately after he was elected, reports the Tribune of India.

The move appears likely to ratchet up a potential clash between the country’s president, Pervez Musharraf, and Pakistan’s newly elected parliament, reports the Voice of America. In an act seen by many as contrary to the rule of law, Musharraf removed the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and numerous other appellate judges from office on Nov. 3 and imposed what many considered a form of martial law. After lawyer-led protests, he eventually agreed to hold parliamentary elections. However, still undecided is whether the deposed judges will be returned to office, contrary to Musharraf’s wishes.

“Two anti-Musharraf parties, which are cooperating to form a coalition government, have pledged to reinstate the judges within a month,” the news agency reports. “That could force the embattled president from office if the judges get to rule Mr. Musharraf’s re-election as president for another five-year term was unconstitutional.”

At the time of their removal from office in November, the supreme court judges “had been due to rule on whether the then General Musharraf’s recent re-election was constitutional and valid,” notes the BBC.

Even though Gilani, who is a member of the Pakistan People’s Party, had not yet been officially sworn in, authorities rushed to end the house arrest of the judges, showing the extent to which Musharraf, who is perceived by many as a U.S.-backed leader, has lost power, according to the British news agency.

“Mr. Gilani has also said that he will, upon taking oath, call on the parliament to pass a resolution seeking a United Nations investigation into the assassination of Ms. Bhutto last December,” its report continues, referring to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed late last year in a public appearance during her campaign for a return to parliament. “The PPP, and her family, has refused to accept the official findings and has indicated they believe government officials were involved in the slaying.”

Speaking today from a balcony of his home in the judges’ enclave in Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad, after a barbed-wire and concrete barrier was removed from the entrance to the compound, Chaudhry expressed his gratitude. “I am thankful to the entire nation which has struggled for the last five months for the rule of law,” he said, according to the Tribune.

As discussed in numerous posts and ABA Journal articles, the ABA is among many bar associations worldwide that have protested the unilateral removal of Pakistan’s appellate judges by Musharraf as contrary to the rule of law. A new call for their reinstatement followed last month’s parliamentary elections.

Additional coverage:

New York Times: “Detained Judges Freed in Pakistan “

CBS News: “New Pakistan PM Elected, Judges Freed”

The Hindu: “Chaudhry freed on the orders of the new PM”

CNN: “Benazir Bhutto assassinated”

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