Thursday, November 15, 2007

More on Pakistani Lawyers & Judges in Revolt

The Boston Globe article which supplied the image of protesting lawyers (in Islamabad, not Karachi -- sorry 'bout that!), also carries a good deal of worthwhile commentary and background. Here is a snip, read the full article by clicking on the title to this post.

Political scientist Rasul Bakhsh Rais said the judiciary and lawyers, two main pillars of Pakistan's fragile civil society and historically at the forefront of political movements, sense that a line has been crossed that could end any hope for constitutional rule in the future.

"They feel if Musharraf has his own way and is able to restructure the system according to his whims, that is the end of Pakistan as a progressive and moderate country and the state will never be able to rehabilitate itself," said Rais, a professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

Police have squashed the lawyers' protests, often brutally, and the legal system has been brought to a virtual standstill. Only 50 of Pakistan's 95 senior judges have agreed to take the oath under Musharraf's "provisional" constitution.

In the capital, criminal and civil courts were empty Thursday. Hundreds of lawyers have refused to appear before judges who have been sworn in since the emergency. Advocates' chambers remain empty, letter writers idle at their desks and court clerks just chat and drink tea.
The author, Matthew Pennington, writing for the AP, goes on to note that Pakistan's judiciary and lawyers actually have often bowed before military juntas before, and actually have something of a reputation for dysfunctionality. So this is actually a watershed moment, apparently spearheaded by Justice Chaudhry:
Chaudhry's resolve in standing up to the military-led establishment has marked a sea change in public notions of how the judiciary could act as a check on the executive and defend citizens' rights.
more stories like this

"The past year has seen a revolution in Pakistan as the judiciary fought successfully for its independence and held the government to account," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

In one notable example, Chaudhry started pushing the government to disclose the whereabouts of 485 Pakistanis secretly detained by intelligence agencies on suspicion of involvement in terrorism or ethnic nationalist movements and held for months or years without charge.

So far, some 105 have been released -- often mysteriously dropped on highways or suddenly reappearing in police custody two or three years after disappearing. Musharraf accuses the court of freeing more than 60 terrorists.

"The chief justice was our hope and still is our hope," said Amina Masood Janjua, 42, who is still trying to trace her husband, businessman Masood Janjua, 47, who disappeared in December 2005. She believes he is in the custody of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence but has no idea what for.

"The chief justice was the one working for the public and the poor, and who for the first time in Pakistan was summoning people from the agencies to appear in court," she said.
The political parties in Pakistan, including opposition leaders such as Benazir Bhutto apparently have reputations for mismanagement and corruption, with little wide-spread trust. This makes this recent work from the judiciary and lawyers more momentous, even. I wish our government would speak more strongly in support of these courageous lawyers and judges. They are working for some of the key values that underlie democracy and transparent government! (of course, these are some of the values that our current administration seems most likely to flout themselves, so perhaps I should not hold out much hope)

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