Oust Musharraf, Pakistan lawyers demand after poll verdict

February 20th, 2008 - 8:08 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Benazir Bhutto
By Devirupa Mitra
Islamabad, Feb 20 (IANS) Lawyers in Pakistan, enthused by the defeat of the ‘king’s party’ in the elections, Wednesday called for President Musharraf’s ouster, and said their weekly boycott of courts will continue till the release of the detained judges. In a sign that restrictions imposed by Musharraf may be loosening up, Interior Minister Lt General Hamid Nawaz told reporters here that detained judges were “free to move”, but were not allowed to meet with media, politicians or lawyers.

At the same time, he said that the housing ministry had served notices on the judges to vacate their official government-provided residences.

Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, was released from house arrest after three months. He called for Musharraf’s resignation.

Addressing a press conference in Lahore, Ahsan said if the judges were not released by March 8, lawyers from all over Pakistan will come to Islamabad and lay siege to parliament from March 9, the first anniversary of the suspension of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary.

“The judges have been put in house arrest by an executive order, so (the order) can be replaced by another executive order. Parliament does not have to go into it,” he said.

“The hurdles against judges were only physical, they have not been sacked,” he said.

He hoped the political parties will do their bit by reminding them that assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto had said the reinstatement of the judiciary’s power was one of her main aims.

Brian D. Hunt, the top official at the US consulate in Lahore, also met Ahsan at his residence after all restrictions on him were removed.

Ahsan Sunday circulated a letter urging political parties to release the detained judges and reinstate them in their earlier positions by March 7.

Asif Ali Zardari of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the two parties that have topped the seat tally and are likely to form the next government, also said Tuesday that restoring the powers of the judiciary would be their priority.

Pakistan Bar Council vice-chairman Mirza Aziz Akbar Baig told IANS that though they had asked political parties to boycott the elections, now after the results they want them to fulfil their promises to restore democracy.

“We had our slogan, ‘Go, Musharraf, Go’, which has been also echoed by the Pakistani public,” said Baig.

President Musharraf’s confrontation with the judiciary began March 9, when he “suspended” chief justice Chaudhary. After a mass uprising by lawyers across the country, a 13-member Supreme Court bench reinstated Chawdhary and squashed all references of misconduct filed against him by the president.

When Musharraf declared a state of emergency Nov 3 and issued a provisional constitution order (PCO) that replaced the existing 1973 Pakistani constitution. Chief Justice Chaudhary constituted an eight-member bench, which quashed the PCO and the declaration of emergency.

A division of the Pakistan Army soon stormed the Supreme Court, removed the chief justice and the seven judges and put them under house arrest.

Ahsan, who had organized the 2007 campaign seeking the chief justice’s reinstatement, had also been put into house arrest soon after declaration of emergency.

Earlier, there seemed to be a slight difference between PML-N and PPP over restoration of the judiciary’s powers, with the latter asserting that parliament will decide on the issue.

PPP spokesperson Farhatullah Babar had said there were several questions that have to resolved, like whether the squashing of PCO extended to previous PCOs promulgated by Musharraf.

Chief Justice Chawdhary had been elevated to the Supreme Court in 2000 after he had taken oath under the PCO promulgated by Musharraf.

According to lawyer Ather Minallah, there was “at least a consensus among political parties that the constitution could not be amended by a single person”.

“This leaves the way open for Musharraf to be tried for high treason,” he said.

Minallah has been among the few who had been in contact with the chief justice from behind the police guards. “I had spoken to him by phone after Musharraf’s interview with Jemima Khan came out. He just laughed,” he told IANS.

In the interview published in a British newspaper, The Independent, Sunday Musharraf described the chief justice as “the scum of the earth, a third rate man and a corrupt man”.

He had also contacted the detained chief justice after the election results started to trickle through. “He obviously appreciated the people’s verdict,” said Minallah.

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