New York: The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) is gravely concerned as Pakistan’s constitution is suspended and judges and lawyers are arrested. The latest developments in Pakistan represent a serious negation of the rule of law, throwing the country into yet greater turmoil.
‘The IBAHRI calls upon the Government of Pakistan to abide by the rule of law and reminds it that a state of emergency may only be called when the life of the nation is under threat. Until such time the constitution should be applied in full,’ says Justice Richard Goldstone, IBAHRI Co-Chair. He adds, ‘Although Pakistan’s Constitution protects the independence of judges, the IBAHRI believes that the Government has subverted judicial independence by sanctioning the arrest of judges, instructing police to enter the Supreme Court and by making public statements undermining judicial authority.’
Ambassador Emilio Cardenas, IBAHRI Co-Chair says, ‘With respect to peaceful protests, the IBAHRI notes that the right to free speech and freedom of assembly are integral to democracy. Although these principles are found within Pakistan’s constitution, today’s demonstrations by the legal fraternity have been broken up using tear gas and batons.’The IBAHRI is concerned that unless the constitution is restored and properly applied, the rule of law in Pakistan will continue to deteriorate leading to greater human rights abuses and further departure from the principles of democracy.
On 3 November 2007 President Musharraf issued a televised broadcast at which he said that a state of emergency had been introduced and the constitution suspended due to a rise in extremism and in response to what he claimed was the paralysis of government by courts and judges. In a wide-scale backlash against the courts, judges and lawyers were arrested and soldiers entered the Supreme Court where Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and six other judges had reportedly declared the state of emergency illegal. The Chief Justice, who had previously been suspended by President Musharraf and then reinstated earlier this year, is reportedly under house arrest.
Today, lawyers in Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi have held protests against the Government. Lawyers’ associations across the country are understood to be calling for a three-day protest and boycott of courts. It is reported that throughout Pakistan protests have been broken up by the police using tear gas and batons, and an estimated 200 lawyers have been arrested. There is a clampdown on media reporting with Pakistani TV news channels being prevented from broadcasting.
The past year has seen President Musharraf face various crises. Prior to the presidential elections and in light of his declining popularity, President Musharraf faced mounting public protests. Various legal challenges to his presidential candidacy were issued before the courts and after the results of 8 October, in which President Musharraf received 98 per cent of the vote, a further petition was lodged with the Supreme Court challenging the result. Critics are suggesting that the introduction of a state of emergency was acting to pre-empt the decision of the Supreme Court as to the legality of the Presidential elections. The past months have also seen a rise in extremist violence and suicide attacks.
The calls from IBAHRI to the Pakistani Government to reinstate the constitution are further to recommendations made in a recently released IBAHRI report addressing violations of the fundamental principles of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in Pakistan. The report dealt specifically with the issues of General Musharraf preventing the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, from carrying out his judicial day-to-day functions and the placing of Mr Chaudhry incommunicado under house arrest for three days when he refused to resign his post.