OPINION | Long live courageous Pakistani lawyer Rabia Bajwa!

Several courageous lawyers are fighting for democracy and the rule of law in Pak

PAKISTAN-POLITICS/ [FILE] Supporters of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), a coalition of political parties, gather in front of the Supreme Court of Pakistan to protest against the granting of bail in several cases to Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan, in Islamabad, Pakistan May 15, 2023 | Reuters

Ever since the events of May 9, 2023, when a fascist reign of terror was unleashed by the Pakistan establishment  (which is a euphemism for its army) I have been closely watching on social media and elsewhere the fast-moving developments in Pakistan. With great concern. 

About 14,000 people, including women and children, have been arrested on trumped up charges, brutally beaten, and incarcerated in jail, where they are still languishing in horrible inhuman conditions for over an year. The Pakistani media has been largely silenced, and also most of the judiciary, which unfortunately has as its head the shameless Chief Justice of Pakistan, Qazi Faez Isa, one of the most disgraceful and servile toadies the world has seen since the 'hanging judge' Judge Jeffreys.

However, even in these dark times, there are some courageous judges like Justice Athar Minallah of the Pakistan Supreme Court, and the courageous six judges of the Islamabad High Court who wrote an explosive letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan and members of Pakistan's Supreme Judicial Council complaining of interference in their functioning by the state intelligence agencies. They stand as beacons of hope and have become my heroes.

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Several courageous lawyers of Pakistan have also become my heroes, like Aitzaz Ahsan, Sardar Latif Khosa, Barrister Gohar Khan, Barrister Syed Ali Zafar, Mohd Shoaib Shaheen and Naeem Haider Panjutha. They are fighting bravely for democracy and the rule of law in Pakistan.

One lady lawyer, Rabia Bajwa, has especially drawn my admiration. I have seen many of her speeches, and she reminds me of my friend the late Asma Jahangir whom I met many times in Delhi when I was a Supreme Court judge there. Like Asma, Rabia is totally fearless, and is a real tigress.

When the great revolutionary writer Thomas Paine was jailed and tried for treason in England in 1792 for writing his famous pamphlet 'The Rights of Man' in defence of the French Revolution, the great advocate Thomas Erskine (1750-1823) was briefed to defend him. Erskine was at that time the attorney general for the Prince of Wales and he was warned that if he accepts the brief, he would be dismissed from office. Undeterred, Erskine accepted the brief and was dismissed from office.

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However, his immortal words in this connection stand out as a shining light even today:

"From the moment that any advocate can be permitted to say that he will or will not stand between the Crown and the subject arraigned in court where he daily sits to practise, from that moment the liberties of England are at an end. If the advocate refuses to defend from what he may think of the charge or of the defence, he assumes the character of the judge; nay he assumes it before the hour of the judgment; and in proportion to his rank and reputation puts the heavy influence of perhaps a mistaken opinion into the scale against the accused in whose favour the benevolent principles of English law make all assumptions, and which commands the very judge to be his counsel."


Indian and Pakistani lawyers have followed this great tradition of defending their clients and fighting for the rule of law, often even at grave personal risk.


The revolutionaries in Bengal during British rule were defended by our lawyers, the Indian communists were defended in the Meerut conspiracy case, Razakars of Hyderabad were defended by our lawyers, Sheikh Abdullah and his co-accused were defended by them, and so were some of the alleged assassins of Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi. In recent times, Dr Binayak Sen has been defended. The great Urdu poet Faez was defended in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, and Z.A. Bhutto was defended in the Kasuri murder case.

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No Indian or Pakistani lawyer of repute has ever shirked responsibility on the ground that it will make him unpopular or that it is personally dangerous for him to do so. It was in this great tradition that the eminent Bombay High Court lawyer Bhulabhai Desai defended the accused in the INA trials in the Red Fort in Delhi (November 1945-May 1946).


As long as fearless, valiant, intrepid, undaunted lawyers like Rabia Bajwa are around, the spirit of liberty can never die out in Pakistan.

Long live Rabia Bajwa!

Justice Markandey Katju retired from the Supreme Court in 2011.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK.

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