SHANGHAI -- Immediately after taking office last month, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ordered the release of the 60 judges who had been detained by President Pervez Musharraf since November. This is a triumph for the rule of law in Pakistan, and above all a triumph for the brave Pakistani lawyers who took to the streets to protest Musharraf’s imposition of a state of emergency last autumn.
The lawyers marched, sang, danced, and exchanged their briefcases for signs and, occasionally, eggs and stones. As one Pakistani blogger wrote, “They danced in black coats and they danced in black ties. Their black coats their Kalashnikovs and their black ties their bullets.” In a world of color revolutions, Pakistan’s was clothed in the sober hues of the law.
Last November, Musharraf effectively declared war on both the bar and the judiciary, dismissing all judges who refused to recognize his declaration of a state of emergency, purportedly aimed at protecting the nation from terrorists. The seven-member Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikar Mohammad Chaudhry, countered by issuing an order barring the government from proclaiming emergency rule.
Musharraf dissolved the Supreme Court and the four High Courts, put Chaudhry and his entire family under house arrest, sealed the Supreme Court premises under army guard, and proceeded to arrest and detain all judges who refused to swear allegiance to the Provisional Constitutional Order upholding the state of emergency. The result was the detention of most of the senior judiciary, as well as bar association presidents across the country and all leading lawyers and human rights activists seeking to defend judicial independence.