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Pakistani Lawyers Protest Gov’t Case Against Top Judge

03 Jun 2019 Gandhara - RFE/RL

Pakistan’s leading lawyers association has threatened strong protests if the government’s misconduct case against a Supreme Court judge who was critical of the country’s powerful military goes to trial.

Amanullah Kanrani, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, says they will protest at courthouses if legal action is taken against Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa for allegedly failing to declare foreign properties in his wealth statement.

“We are not against accountability, but we are against discrimination and actions rooted in deceit,” Kanrani told journalists in Islamabad on June 3.

“Justice Isa is being punished for sins he never committed,” he added. “The lawyers will rise against such moves, and the entire nation, too, will resist.”

Kanrani warned that, unlike previous protests in the streets, this time they will agitate inside courts and, if needed, lock courtrooms. “This time around, the lawyers will be dragging those who have violated the country’s laws and constitution,” he said.

He asked the government to withdraw the case against Isa by June 14 or face unprecedented protests.

“The government might contemplate using bullets instead of batons [to disperse our protests], but we will be ready to face them,” he said.

The protest call comes days after Isa -- widely considered a trustworthy judge -- questioned federal authorities over a legal complaint, formally called a court reference, that could potentially lead to his removal from office.

After the Pakistani media reported on the reference last week, Isa wrote a letter to President Arif Alvi questioning why the government’s reference was selectively leaked to the press.

“Selective leaks amount to character assassination, jeopardizing my right to due process and fair trial,” Isa wrote on May 28. “[It] undermines the institution of the judiciary.”

In a statement on June 2, Pakistan’s Law and Justice Ministry and the prime minister’s office confirmed that the government has filed references against Isa and another senior judge on the Supreme Judicial Council for not declaring foreign properties. Comprising five of the most senior Supreme Court and High Court judges, the body is tasked with trying senior judges.

But the government’s legal action against Isa has drawn strong reactions from opposition politicians and lawyers. Additional Attorney General Zahid Ebrahim, a senior government lawyer, resigned on May 29. “Unless resisted, it will cause irreparable damage to the institution [of the judiciary], which is the protector of our fundamental rights and the bedrock of our fledgling democracy,” he wrote in his resignation letter.

Many have linked the complaint to Isa’s recent landmark ruling, which criticized the role of Pakistan’s powerful military in an anti-government protest in 2017. On February 6, Isa directed the Pakistani government, intelligence services, and the military’s media office to operate within their legal mandate.

“The constitution emphatically prohibits members of the armed forces from engaging in any kind of political activity, which includes supporting a political party, faction, or individual,” the ruling said.

The ruling decided a suo moto case regarding a sit-in protest in late 2017. Islamist group Tehreek-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) had paralyzed the capital, Islamabad, and the neighboring city of Rawalpindi for weeks.

In April Pakistan’s Defense Ministry, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) and several other government departments and individuals, petitioned the court to review Isa’s February 6 ruling.

Legal observers are now watching whether the country’s top court moves to hear the government’s case against Isa or asks him to revise the ruling.

– With reporting by The Express Tribune, Dawn, and Samma

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