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Pakistanis in Protest March for Independent Judiciary

Four-day, multi-city march begins today

By Masooma Haq
Epoch Times Staff
Created: March 12, 2009 Last Updated: March 13, 2009
Related articles: World » South Asia
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Pakistani lawyers shout slogans as they march with a placard featuring an image of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry during a protest rally in Lahore on March 12, 2009.    (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistani lawyers shout slogans as they march with a placard featuring an image of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry during a protest rally in Lahore on March 12, 2009. (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Lawyers and citizen groups in Pakistan are taking to the streets in a protest march that started today. Pakistani lawyers, civil activists, and a coalition of political parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), started the four-day march amid scuffles with police to call for an independent judiciary.

One of the main goals of the protest march is to pressure the current president Asif Ali Zardari to reinstate deposed Supreme Court Justice Iftikhar Muhummad Chaudhry. Chaudhry was sacked in March, 2007, by then-president Pervez Musharaf. His firing outraged lawyers and activists, and galvanized them to fight for his reinstatement.

The march began in Karachi and Quetta, and is expected to gain support as it moves through various cities including Multan, and Lahore. It will end in Islamabad on March 16 where representatives from various groups will stage a sit-in in front of the federal parliament building.

Pakistani lawyers and political party activists march during a protest rally in Quetta on March 12, 2009. Pakistan police baton-charged activists and manhandled dozens into vans in Karachi as scores defied the government to launch a mass protest that has  (Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistani lawyers and political party activists march during a protest rally in Quetta on March 12, 2009. Pakistan police baton-charged activists and manhandled dozens into vans in Karachi as scores defied the government to launch a mass protest that has (Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

According to Athar Minallah, a lawyer and Chaudhry’s spokesperson, the aim of the lawyers’ movement is “to [get] rid [of] the doctrine of ‘law of necessity,’ through which dictators have destroyed democracy and institutions in this country.”

Pakistan’s 62-year history is riddled with military dictators taking broad license with the constitution, and judges being subservient to the executive government.

After being fired in 2007, Chaudhry was briefly reinstated on July 20, but by Nov. 3 General Musharaf declared a state of emergency and deposed the chief justice again, this time with other judges. It’s believed the moves came after Musharaf caught wind of rumors that Chaudhry and the courts intended to rule his presidency illegitimate.

Chaudhry is known in the lawyers’ community for being among the few honest judges, and not susceptible to bribery. Since his firing, lawyers have waged an ongoing campaign for the rule of law in Pakistan. They argue that there can be no independent judiciary without independent judges.

Pakistani riot police patrol on a street during a protest by anti-government lawyers and political parties activists in Lahore on March 12, 2009.   (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistani riot police patrol on a street during a protest by anti-government lawyers and political parties activists in Lahore on March 12, 2009. (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

“The lawyer’s movement must succeed, and the principles of the movement must be upheld,” said Minallah. “The citizens need confidence and trust in the system and to know their fundamental rights are protected and have a stake in the system.”

PML-N, Pakistan’s second biggest party and its leader, Nawaz Sharif have from the beginning called for the reinstatement of Chaudhry. Sharif has recently been more vocal in support of the lawyers’ movement, calling on all Pakistanis to join the upcoming march.

During the 2008 elections Sharif and now President Zardari formed a coalition, united against General Musharaf, and jointly called for the reinstatement of the sacked judges once the elections were settled. Since then, Zardari and his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), who won the election, have said they will not reinstate the judges. Instead they say they will let Parliament make the decision, putting Sharif and Zardari on opposing ends.

Pakistani riot police patrol on a street during a protest by anti-government lawyers and political parties activists in Lahore on March 12, 2009.   (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistani riot police patrol on a street during a protest by anti-government lawyers and political parties activists in Lahore on March 12, 2009. (Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

In recent weeks, since a ruling by the Zardari government that bars Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Shabaz, the former minister of Punjab Province from contesting elections and holding office, the relationship between Sharif and Zardari has grown even more contentious.

Those that support the march, like Chaudhry’s spokesperson Athar Minallah, believe that the success of the march and the lawyers’ movement will be a turning point in Pakistan’s quest for democracy.

“History has shown that the absence of this trust between citizens and government makes people lean toward rough justice,” said Minallah.

Aysha Haq contributed to this report.




   

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