The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has launched a mission to investigate the arrest of Pakistan’s top judge.
As reported by The Lawyer (16 April), Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was made ‘non-functional’ by Pakistan’s president, General Pervez Musharraf, on 9 March, leading to lawyers and judges boycotting the courts and clashing with police.
Summoned to Army House, Musharraf’s residence in Rawalpindi, Chaudhry was advised to resign. When he refused he was suspended by a newly convened group of five fellow Supreme Court judges known as the Supreme Judicial Council. He has been under house arrest since.
The ICJ is a rule of law non-governmental organisation comprising 60 eminent judges. Its UK section is called Justice.
Justice director Roger Smith said: “Few chief justices have brought together such wide support as Chief Justice Chaudhry. Hard-line militants, secularists, democrats and lawyers have all protested his suspension, fearing that charges of corruption covered a concern at his willingness to exert judicial independence. He currently defends himself before a tribunal of judges whose own integrity is under scrutiny and should remain so.”
Chaudhry was appointed in 2005 by Musharraf and has been a stalwart supporter of the rule of law. His actions include having launched inquiries into the disappearance of suspected insurgents in the Balochistan province; outlawing child marriage; and stopping the privatisation of a major steel company because of irregularities in the bidding process.
The charges against Chaudhry, which were heard by judges behind closed doors on 13 March, are believed to include misconduct and abuse of office.
The ICJ will be represented in Pakistan by senior Malaysian jurist Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy, a former UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. Param Cumaraswamy is meeting with government ministers, senior judges and lawyers to assess due process in relation to Chaudry’s suspension and arrest, as well as allegations of the use of force and preventive detention against protestors by police.