PAKISTAN: Lawyers warn of possible imposition of martial law – call for support in their struggle for democracy and independence of the judiciary

The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) has warned that General Musharaff appears to be trying to ‘drive the country towards civil war just to perpetuate his rule.’ Referring to certain incidents of violent confrontations the SCBA said that this was ‘an attempt by the general to create chaos in the country, resulting in civil war which will justify the imposition of emergency in the country.’ The SCBA further said that the lawyers will not allow this move to succeed and nobody will be allowed to declare martial law in the country.

The active resistance put up by lawyers supporting the now dysfunctional Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudry is spearheading the struggle for the very survival of constitutionalism, independence of the judiciary, democracy and human rights in Pakistan.

All these institutions are not just under threat but are facing possible extinction under the massive attacks of the military regime of General Musharaff. These lawyers and many others who support them are today at the forefront of a struggle and their victory is essential if totalitarianism is not to completely submerge the country making recourse to law and the independence of the judiciary completely alien experiences for the people.

The forced out Chief Justice is reported to have stressed the need for the supremacy of the constitution and the law. ‘Deviations from the constitution,’ he has said ‘lead to anarchy and bad governance while complete obedience to the constitution by everyone ensures rule of law.’ He has further said that unless all citizens had access to justice and are able to resolve their disputes by legal means they would be at the mercy of the strong and the oppressors.

In an earlier statement the Asian Human Rights Commission has pointed out that the attack on the Chief Justice and the lawyers have encouraged those who promote Shariah law as against civil law to push their agenda. A complete overhaul of Pakistan’s legal fabric is now a real threat. Perhaps it is the perception of this threat by the lawyers that propel them to demand the reinstatement of the Chief Justice and to demand ‘go Musharaff, go’.

These protests are also directed at the release of lawyers and others who have been arrested while protesting against the actions of the regime against the Chief Justice. Senior lawyers representing associations of lawyers have demanded that ‘all those who were behind the reference against the Chief Justice should be unmasked and brought to justice.’ They have also demanded that all disappeared persons should be accounted for and all illegal detentions should be brought to book.

Meanwhile the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) has urged professional parties and organisations including the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, The Medical Association, the Medical Council, the Engineering Council and associations of chartered accountants and architects to support the struggle of the lawyers. This call was made at a PBC meeting held on Sunday (15 April). The PBC has also called for strikes, boycotts and other activities in relation to the ongoing struggle. The PBC has been backed by the Supreme Court Bar Association.

The military regime of General Musharaff has gone a long way towards destroying the very fabric of the rule of law and democracy in Pakistan. Having come to power utilizing the popular dissatisfaction with an elected government due to its abuse of power and corruption the Musharaff regime has increased such abuse of power and corruption a thousand-fold. A world climate against anti terrorism has provided a good cover behind which this regime can hide the massive destruction of the entire framework of the democratic legal systems of Pakistan. This process of destruction is far advanced and that was what gave the military regime the confidence to take such drastic action against the Chief Justice himself.

The Asian Human Rights Commission supports the call of the PBC and also the struggle of all others who are taking tremendous risks in openly defying the military regime. Their struggle deserves the support of everyone throughout the world who cares for democracy and rule of law. Their loss will not only result in the extinction of what is left of the democratic constitutional and legal framework of Pakistan but also have a colossal demoralizing effect on the people of the country as well as those in neighbouring countries.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-083-2007
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : State of emergency & martial law,