The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong
Iftehkar Mohammed Choudhry, the Chief Justice of Pakistan who was dismissed from office by President Pervez Musharraf after the imposition of the emergency rule, has been recognised as the lawyer of the year 2007 by the National Law Journal, published in the United States. This recognition is most appropriate. In Pakistan now the very existence of the legal profession and the judiciary, as independent institutions are exposed to imminent danger. It is to be hoped that the recognition conferred on the dismissed chief justice will evoke a response from lawyers, judges, all democratically minded people and governments regarding the endangered judiciary and the legal profession in the country.
What is now happening in Pakistan is not just a setback to these basic institutions of basic rule of law and democracy but a possible downturn which, if not addressed now will plunge Pakistan into a completely arbitrary rule and lawlessness. There are times when concerned public opinion is challenged in a very fundamental way to decide as to whether it could make a change for the better in a very critical situation. If it fails to do so it will have to sit and weep for many decades to come. Already a tremendous damaged has been done within the last few weeks since the imposition of the emergency and the virtual dismissal of many judges from the Supreme Court and from the higher courts. This was accompanied by handpicked people being appointed by judges in their place. The people of Pakistan will understand this in no other way but as a fatal wound caused to the independence of the judiciary. President Musharraf, who has claimed to be St. Michael, fighting against the dragon of terrorism has in fact turned his spear on the independent judiciary of his country. Certainly there is resistance to this move by the lawyers, judges and a very large section of the population. This resistance is the only hope that the country has.
The recognition as Lawyer of the Year conferred on the former Chief Justice is fitting as what is being challenged in Pakistan is the very meaning of the law in the country. The military ruler has treated the country’s constitution as if it were toilet paper. He has flushed it down the drain and put his own declarations and decrees in its place. In any country which has respect for law his action would be treated either an act of a madman or as an act of treason, but the super powers that keep president Musharraf in power have not seen it that way. They treat the destruction of the very fabric of the rule of law cynically. Let millions of people’s lives be damned into a lawless situation, what do they care?
Now it falls on the lawyers of Pakistan and their judges who have thought it worth sacrificing their careers to defend the independence of the judiciary and the people of Pakistan to resist with all their strength the military design to destroy the independence of the judiciary in their country. Eminent lawyers like Munir Malik, the former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and some judges and lawyers who have even faced severe torture, arrest and detention show a determination that needs a proactive support from democratically minded people all over the world. It is to be hoped that in this hour of great need they will not be betrayed. Iftehkar Mhd. Choudhry is a symbol of this great historical moment. The Asian Human Rights Commission hopes that having recognised him as Lawyer of the Year he will also be treated in that way by the world community of lawyers, judges and democratically minded people.
The Asian Human Rights Commission, founded in 1984, is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia.