| Lawyers at a protest rally in Karachi on Wednesday. (AP)
Islamabad, March 14 (Reuters): Pakistan’s government, accused of using strong-arm tactics and acting unconstitutionally over moves to sack the country’s top judge, faces the prospect of growing Opposition protests.
Lawyers in cities around the country kept up a campaign of agitation today in support of supreme court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary, who was suspended last Friday and accused of unspecified “misconduct and misuse of authority”. The controversy comes at an awkward time for President Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf is under pressure from the US to act forcibly against the Taliban on Pakistani soil and also to strengthen democracy when elections are held either later this year or in early 2008.
Chaudhary’s refusal to go quietly is a rare show of defiance, and virtually the first time Musharraf has run into a challenge to his authority from within the Pakistani establishment.
“It is not as simple as they sacked a judge, detained him. He is Chief Justice of Pakistan, he isn’t an ordinary man. They have to face the music,” Syed Zulfiqar Ali Bokhari, secretary general of the Pakistan Bar Council, said.
Opposition parties have made a cause celebre out of Chaudhary, who told a panel of five judges yesterday at the outset of his case in the Supreme Judicial Council that he did not expect a fair hearing.
Many observers suspect the reason the government wants to get rid of Chaudhary is because Musharraf is obliged under the constitution to give up his role as army chief this year unless he gets support from the supreme court to retain his uniform.
“We’ll continue our protest unless the government apologises for its unconstitutional action,” Bokhari said as lawyers in black armbands boycotted courts in several cities.