Lawyers to the Barricades - II

Last week, Mike noted that Pakistan's lawyers have not simply been joining the demonstrations against Musharraf's anticonstitutional declaration of martial law, but have been leading the fight "at considerable and entirely predictable cost to themselves." In today's New York Times, Jane Perlez profiles one of those courageous lawyers, Aitzaz Ahsan:

Twenty-five years ago, when President Reagan treated Pakistan’s dictator, Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, to a White House state dinner, a promising young lawyer out of Cambridge University languished in jail. He had protested too loudly, and too often, about the lack of democracy in his country.

Now grayer and at the peak of his profession, the lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, 63, sits in a Pakistani jail once again, reduced to seeing family visitors for 20 minutes a day, and accepting bags of fruit and bedding for some basic comfort.

His crime is the same: making too much noise about democracy under the nose of a military ruler whom Washington has deemed indispensable to its strategic and security interests in the region. [link]

This is Ahsan's second profile in the Times in less than four months, which must be a record of some sort. (I'll bet SAJA can tell us if it is. The first profile, by Somini Sengupta, came at a more hopeful moment, in the immediate aftermath of the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.)

Reports have indicated that Ahsan and other leaders of the Pakistani lawyers' movement may be at risk of torture at the hands of Pakistan's military intelligence services. However, despite these risks, Ahsan continues to speak out forcefully against Musharraf's anticonstitutional coup from his jail cell:

"It doesn’t matter where I have been or I would be kept in prison by the dictator, who breaches the Constitution twice and humiliated the judiciary many times." Aitzaz said it was a great misconception on the part of the Musharraf regime that by putting thousands of lawyers, civil society members and political party activists in prison and by torturing them, it can avoid the massive resistive movement against their unconstitutional moves.

"Lawyers are already protesting and fighting against the dictatorship," Aitzaz said and added: "The day we will come out of prison we will join the already fighting lawyers and will intensify the movement to restore the judiciary."

"We want the rule of law, rule of the Constitution, an independent judiciary and a free media and we will fight for this till the last drop of our blood...."

He said Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was the real chief justice of Pakistan. "I and the whole nation salute all the 13 judges who refused to take oath under the PCO." He said they are all great judges and are still the judges of the Supreme Court, Aitzaz said, adding: "The whole nation will become united to restore the real judges of the Supreme Court as it does not accept those as judges who took oath under the PCO." [link]

Thirty-three members of the United States Senate have called for Ahsan's release in a letter to Gen. Musharraf. If you're in New York, you, too, can demonstrate your support for Ahsan and the rest of Pakistan's lawyers' movement by attending a solidarity rally being held today, Tuesday, November 13, from 1:00pm-1:30pm at the New York County Courthouse, 60 Centre Street. The lunchtime demonstration is being organized by the New York City Bar Association, the New York State Bar Association, and the New York County Lawyers’ Association, in conjunction with other organizations. Ahsan's son, Ali, who is a lawyer in New York, will be speaking at the rally. More details here, here, and here.

If you're outside of New York, the "We Oppose Emergency" blog may have announcements of future events. Lawyers to the barricades, indeed.

Posted by Anil Kalhan