OPINION: Shameless Chief Justice of Pakistan

Pakistani judges are shamelessly turning a Nelson's eye to the large-scale violations

people of pakistan Men watch television screens as they wait to see the appearance of the jailed Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan, expected to be streamed live during a video proceeding of the Supreme Court of Pakistan | Reuters

Wafadari mein sheikh-o-barhaman ki azmaish hai.


— Mirza Ghalib

On May 16 one witnessed a sorry spectacle in the Pakistan Supreme Court. Former prime minister Imran Khan has been incarcerated in jail by the Pakistan establishment (meaning its all-powerful army) since August last year on flimsy charges, and even his name is not allowed to be mentioned by the Pakistan media, though he appears to have the support of about 90 per cent of the people of Pakistan (as all opinion polls indicate). However, he was allowed to appear in the Supreme Court, virtually. Though he was shown on the screen for a very short while in light blue garments, one could not hear his voice, and his image soon disappeared and the live streaming stopped, apparently on the Chief Justice's command. 

When a lawyer in court asked that the live streaming showing Imran Khan be restarted, the Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa asked him to “Shut up.”


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This is the extent to which Pakistan's top judicial functionary has shamelessly surrendered himself before the establishment and become its toady. Even showing Imran Khan on the screen and hearing his voice gives him the shivers.

One is sad to see the plight of Pakistan's judiciary. Judges take an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect the liberties of the people, e.g., the right to life and liberty, freedom of speech, etc., which are mentioned in Articles 8 to 28 of Pakistan's Constitution.

However, what one sees in Pakistan is judges shamelessly ignoring this oath and turning a Nelson's eye to the large-scale violation of human rights and civil liberties in Pakistan, and the reign of of terror unleashed on its people, by Pakistan's Gestapo-type security agencies. These agencies abducted and imprisoned about 14,000 people on trumped-up charges after the events of May 9, 2023, where they are still rotting in inhuman conditions. 

Instead of hearing the bail applications of such people Qazi Faez Isa lists and hears old cases in which few people are really interested, e.g., the fairness of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's trial (although Bhutto died 45 years ago) and the old Faizabad dharna case. It seems Qazi Faez Isa is fond of hearing cases of dead people rather than living ones!

Six Judges of the Islamabad High Court recently sent an explosive letter to the Chief Justice and members of Pakistan's Supreme Judicial Council complaining of interference by the security agencies in their functioning.

What is the remedy for the woes of Pakistan's judiciary? To my mind, there is only one: to have a solid Chief Justice. Justice Athar Minallah, who refuses to surrender to executive pressure or inducements, no matter what the cost, can be a solid Chief Justice. 

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The Chief Justice of the country is the kingpin of the entire judiciary. If he is of strong disposition, no one, not even the army, will dare interfere with the functioning and independence of judges. If I am the Chief Justice of Pakistan I would solve the problem in 24 hours. I would send a strong letter to the army chief and chief of the Inter Services Intelligence stating that unless they give a solemn assurance and guarantee that interference in judicial functioning, and harassment and threats to judges, are immediately stopped, I am going to close down all courts in Pakistan, from the highest to the lowest level. There is no point in the functioning of the courts if they are not independent, if their judges are getting threats and if their orders are not obeyed (e.g. the Supreme Court's order that elections to the Punjab legislative assembly must be held on May 14, 2023, was promptly thrown into the dustbin). Courts are not meant to perform dramas. 

Such a letter would soon bring the army authorities to their senses. But Qazi Faez Isa will never do this. He is totally servile to the Pakistan establishment and does its bidding. For instance, by a flagrantly dishonest judgment he deprived Imran Khan’s party of its symbol, so as to damage its election prospects.

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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