PAKISTAN: Lawyer’s movement is the ‘vanguard of democracy’

March 3, 2008

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: Lawyer’s movement is the ‘vanguard of democracy’

The lawyer’s movement in Pakistan will complete its first year on March 9, the day on which, in 2007 the Chief Justice of the country was illegally and unconstitutionally deposed by the then General Musharraf. There was an immediate response from the lawyers throughout the country with peaceful demonstrations, protests and boycotts of the courts in solidarity with the Chief Justice Mr. Iftekhar Choudhry. The movement has been maintained and is as strong today as it was from day one. The lawyers, without considering their own economic losses continued to fight for the rule of law, the reinstatement of the Chief Justice, the supremacy of the judiciary and the restoration of the constitution.

The lawyer’s movement was peculiar in its character in that even the lawyer’s clients and the masses in general joined the movement with no hesitation or reservations. The journalists still continue to support the movement despite the fact that many of them have been arrested, tortured and beaten by the law enforcement authorities. Several media houses were prevented from performing their normal duties, their equipment was confiscated and ordinances were issued against the freedom of the media. Civil society also participated. Many lawyers were beaten, murdered, killed, tortured and arrested. The judges were also arrested and many of them remain under house arrest, including the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

Throughout Asia there has been no parallel to this movement. It was largely because of the movement that the elections of February 18 were possible and in turn the people gave their mandate to the parties that stood up against the tyranny of the army rulers, the illegal unconstitutional way of governance, even against international forces who openly and vehemently supported the army general in uniform as the president of the country and who declared him to be the ‘best leader’ in Pakistan. The lawyer’s movement exposed the so-called super powers for not supporting the movement of the judiciary on the lame excuse of ‘the war on terror’.

The movement’s deep penetration into the masses should be realized and the politicians and the new parliament should be aware of its impact on the future course of a democratic society. There should be no question of manipulating or maneuvering the rule of law, respect for an individual’s freedom, civil liberties and the equality of everyone before the law in dealing with the powers to be in the future political set up.

Some positive outcomes of the movement are that:

1) The lawyers will not sit aloof in future political affairs and will continuously monitor the developments and pace of the rule of law.
2) Human rights issues will dominate politics and will not be so easy to dismiss as it was before March 9, 2007. The courts will be filled by public litigation cases and decisions of the judiciary will be discussed openly by the public including the media.
3) A strong civil society will emerge on common points, particularly for an independent judiciary without any political and official interference.
4) It was evident that the media and particularly the journalists have strongly supported the movement of the lawyers, without which it would have not been possible for the lawyers to keep the movement running. They have proved their independent position for the rule of law, supremacy of judiciary and freedom of expression. So for future governments it will be difficult to put this Djin back in the bottle. The journalists will continue to monitor the issues of corruption, nepotism, violations of human rights and curbs against their professional duties.

The movement for freedom of expression will also have its intervention in the judicial affairs and the media cannot be stopped by any means to discuss the decisions of even the judiciary which was thought to be a ‘sacred cow’ in Pakistan. Each and every aspect of the judiciary will become a public affair.
5) The ‘law of necessity’ may be invoked but it will never again have any credible impact in the public mind. 
6) It will also be difficult for the legislators to make amendments in the constitution according to their wishes or to please the powerful lobbies. After the lawyer’s movement there would such strong checks and balances on their actions that there would be an open fight between legislators and civil society.

The contributions of the lawyers must be treated as a positive direction for the future political and democratic set up. The movement can be termed as a strong foundation stone of future democracy in Pakistan and it should be recognized by the new parliament. July 20 (2007) the day on which Mr. Iftekhar Choudhry was restored to his position by the judiciary, backed by the powerful and well organized movement of lawyers which had the strong support of the media, journalists and civil society needs to be remembered by future generations as a historic date and it will be a welcome move to recognise this day as the day of the independence of the judiciary in Pakistan.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-053-2008
Countries : Pakistan,