PAKISTAN: The military’s violent suppression of the protest against interference of the judiciary needs to be vigorously resisted

As the movement to defend the suspended Chief Justice and the independence of the judiciary in Pakistan has gathered momentum in all part of the country as demonstrated by mammoth crowds congregating to greet him in the streets, the military regime has begun to use violent tactics to suppress this movement.

An organised attempt is now being unleashed against the lawyers and the people who have openly showed their dissatisfaction with the military regime and the suppression of their rights. Now lawyers are being attacked, media stations have been silenced and severe restrictions are imposed on the discussion of the military’s reference against the Chief Justice before the Supreme Court.

In this way the military is trying to wrestle with the biggest challenge it has faced so far to its authority since it came to power through the coup in 1999.

The house of Mr. Munir Malik, the President of Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and the lawyer of the suspended Chief Justice Mr. Iftekhar Chaudhry, was attacked in the early hours of the morning of May 10, by unknown persons who arrived in a car. The assailants fired so many rounds that 20 bullets struck within the house. His daughter survived as she was studying in her room. Several glass windows were broken and marks of the bullet strikes were found on the outside of his house.

This happened just 20 hours after the office of Mr. Malik was sealed by the Building Control Authority of the Sindh government. It was later ordered opened by the Sindh High Court.

The house of another senior lawyer, Mr. Akhter Hussien, former president of the Sindh High Court Bar Association also came under attack by unknown persons who fired at the house. This attack came at about the same time as the one of the house of Mr. Malik.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan yesterday issued a new Code of Conduct for the media regarding the discussion, analysis and coverage of the presidential reference against Chief Justice. As a result a ban has been imposed on debates by media over the presidential reference. The chanting of slogans in the premises of the Supreme Court during the proceedings of the reference has also been banned. Furthermore, any reports which show the issue in a bad light will be regarded as contempt of court.

The Sindh government has asked the Supreme Court to delay the visit of the suspended Chief Justice to Karachi on May 12, to prevent a clash between government and opposition parties. The Interior Secretary of the Sindh government, Brigadier Ghulam Muhammad Mohtrem, wrote to the Supreme Court Registrar on May 9, requesting him to delay the visit of the Chief Justice since the MQM, a government party, and opposition parties had scheduled rallies on the same day, which might result in clashes between them.

The lawyers and other organisations that are spearheading the movement to defend the suspended Chief Justice and the independence of the judiciary will now have to develop their strategies to counter the repression of the military regime. The cause which gave rise to the protests was the legitimate demand to protect the Supreme Court from being humbled by the regime. The attack on the Chief Justice was aimed at creating a completely subservient Supreme Court. If the protest regarding this matter is defeated it will mark the final victory of the military, not only against the judiciary in Pakistan but also over the entire legal process. Thus, the violence that is now being unleashed by the military, which is known for its extreme use of violence against the population, needs not only to be condemned but resisted by civil society as well as the international community.

Given the fundamental importance of the defence of the independence of the judiciary, the role that is being played by some Supreme Court judges themselves to become subservient to the military needs to be severely condemned. The silence imposed on discussions and debates on the military’s reference made to the Supreme Court have no legitimate basis. Such suppression of discussion is neither a matter of sub-judice or contempt of court as is claimed by the Supreme Court which has imposed a code of conduct against such discussions. What is before the people now is one of the most vital political problems that will have enormous repercussions for the future. On such matters the duty of the Supreme Court is not to suppress public debate but to encourage it.

The present moves to impose such restrictions on discussions by the Supreme Court will be seen by the people as open subservience of the court to the military regime. Such a perception can only alienate the people from any faith in the judiciary. The greatest loser in that process will be the judiciary itself. The challenge to the lawyers now is not only just the violence unleashed on some of the leaders like the president of the SCBA, but about the suppression of the legal profession itself. If the military finally silences the judiciary the legal profession will have little validity or credibility before the people.

If the military regime is unleashing violence against peaceful protests the people have the right for non-violent disobedience. The matter of the survival of the judicial process and the independence of the judiciary are fundamental to any nation. Before such a threat the people of the country have a right to resist the regime through non-violent but active disobedience.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-097-2007
Countries : Pakistan,