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All are equal in Pak, even chief justice

Islamabad, March 9: Pakistan’s Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was shown the door today for “misconduct and misuse of authority”.

“President General Pervez Musharraf has filed a reference against him under Article 209 of the constitution in the Supreme Judicial Council,” a brief official statement said.

It added that the reference has been filed after receiving numerous complaints and serious allegations for “misconduct, misuse of authority and actions prejudicial to the dignity of the office of chief justice of Pakistan”.

The seniormost available judge Javed Iqbal was appointed as the acting chief justice, who was administered the oath of office by another judge Abdul Hameed Dogar.

Iqbal was appointed as the acting chief justice in absence of Justice Rana Bhagwandas, who is away in India. Bhagwandas, the only Hindu jurist in Pakistani judiciary, is the seniormost judge after Iftikhar.

“Mr Iftikhar Chaudhry’s position has been held in abeyance pending report of the supreme judicial council,” deputy minister for information Tariq Azeem said.

Justice Chaudhry was summoned to the presidential camp office in the garrison town of Rawalpindi this morning and handed over a charge-sheet.

“A reference was filed against the former chief justice after he failed to deny allegations, contained in the charge-sheet,” federal law minister Wasi Zafar said in Islamabad.

This is for the first time in Pakistan’s judicial history that a reference was filed against the sitting chief justice.

It was not clear as to when the five-member supreme judicial council comprising the chief justice, two seniormost judges of the apex court and two seniormost chief justice of the high courts will hear the reference.

“The hearing will start only after Justice Rana Bhagwandas returns home from India,” a Pakistani lawyer Tariq Bilal said.

Justice Chaudhry’s suspension came days after publication of an open letter to him by a Pakistani jurist Naeem Bokhari in the country’s media, which spoke of the alleged misuse of authority and misconduct by the suspended chief justice, who otherwise made headlines by publicly rebuking senior police officials describing them as corrupt and inefficient.

Bokhari had also questioned movement of chief justice’s offspring Dr Iftikhar Arsalan Chaudhry from Baluchistan to Punjab, where he was appointed in the provincial health department and his transfer to Federal Investigations Agency (FIA) from where he was sent to National Police Academy (NPA) for training.

Dr Arsalan Iftikhar Chaudhry, who was working in the Punjab health department as a medical practitioner, was reportedly inducted into the police service as additional superintendent of police after amendments in the Police Service of Pakistan rules despite the fact that he flunked twice in the Central Superior Services examination.

Many in Pakistan believed that the judicial activism, which was being displayed by Justice Chaudhry annoyed the government.

The chief justice, who took suo motu action in several cases to emphasise his interest in matters of public interest such as environment and human rights, last year received wide media publicity following an adverse ruling that nullified the privatisation deal of the largest steel making unit, the Pakistan Steel Mills, and questioned government’s claim of honest and clean governance.

Another leading Pakistani lawyer Malik Abdul Qayyum said that bureaucracy and police officials all over Pakistan were not happy with Justice Chaudhry, adding that he personally knew a number of people who had unleashed a propaganda campaign against the former chief justice.

Iftikhar Chaudhry had told a gathering of senior Pakistan Air Force officials last January that suo motu action in various cases of poor governance and corruption exposed the level of institutional failure of the state machinery.

“Whatever happened today has nothing to do with corruption or misuse of authority,” opposition leader Maulana Fazalur Rehman told Pakistan’s private Geo TV.

Rehman, who is also secretary-general of the six-party Islamic alliance Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, said President Muharraf only applied “might is right” rule.

Asked if the constitution allowed the President to take such an action, he briefly said: “There is a room for every thing in the constitution, including impeachment of the President himself.”

Leading Pakistani jurists, including two former chief justices Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui and Syed Sajjad Ali Shah, were also shocked over the development and described as unfortunate.

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