PAKISTAN: Reinstatement of the Chief Justice is the only credible solution to the present judicial crisis

It appears that the enormous public support that the ‘non-functional’ Chief Justice Mr. Iftekhar Mohammad Choudry is receiving throughout the country has obviously surprised and shaken the regime of General Musharaff. The situation that has blown up has been described by observers as “… the country’s most bitter judicial crisis ever.”

Justice Choudry was made non-functional on March 9 and a reference against him was filed by the president to the Supreme Judicial Council under Article 209 of the Constitution. This was a high handed action on the part of the military regime which wanted to bypass the Chief Justice and to have someone more pliable in the post for the regime. The military regime miscalculated the attachment that the people still have for the independence of the judiciary. The outpouring of support for the Chief Justice was merely an expression of the enormous frustration the people have felt by the continuous suppression of all freedoms by the military regime and particularly the consistent attack on the independence of the judiciary.

It was quite natural that the brunt of the protest against the attack on the Chief Justice was lead by the lawyers within the country. The legal profession in Pakistan has a long history of fighting fiercely to maintain the status of lawyers and the integrity of the system under which they function. What the lawyers saw in the attack on the Chief Justice was a heightened attempt by the military regime to suppress not only the independence of the judiciary but also the independence of the lawyers.

In the neighbouring country of Sri Lanka over two decades of attacks on the independence of the judiciary has virtually destroyed the independence of the legal profession. In earlier statements the Asian Human Rights Commission has reported on the comments made by many lawyers who have withdrawn from active use of avenues of legal redress due to the deterioration that has entered the system. Obviously the lawyers in Pakistan are determined to avoid a similar suppression of their profession.

The popular protests against the action of the military regime and the defiance by the Chief Justice Choudry himself, has lead to the regime looking for other means by which to silence the Chief Justice and the protesters.

The government has tried to persuade the Chief Justice to leave the country which he has refused to do. According to reports the government has initiated talks with Chief Justice Choudry to find a mutually acceptable solution. All these moves by the government indicate that there is a crisis within the government itself on the move taken by General Musharaff against the Chief Justice. It further indicates that unintentionally the government may have provided a reason for the angry public to come forward and to resist the regime’s extremely repressive policies.

Pakistan has had a tradition of democracy and experience of the functioning of an independent judiciary until several military regimes undermined this tradition. However, the attachment of the people to this tradition still remains and a given opportunity is likely to rise with demands for greater respect for democracy, rule of law and human rights. Under these circumstances the only real solution to the present crisis is for the government to retract its earlier decision and to reinstate the Chief Justice in the position which he held. Though this may be somewhat politically embarrassing for the regime from the point of view of the protection of stability within Pakistan it may be the only appropriate response. The lawyers and others who have shown great courage and strength to resist the military regime deserve the support of the international community.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-053-2007
Countries : Pakistan,