Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Law Society of Scotland 'concern' over Pakistan turmoil

Frightened by headlines of "Lawyers beaten in crackdown", the Law Society of Scotland, regularly known for contacting journalists to tone down stories on negative publicity on Scotland's legal profession, expresses its view on the situation in Pakistan.

Press Release from the Law Society of Scotland followed by a Scotsman report on the situation in Pakistan where lawyers have been protesting over their view of democracy being usurped.

Pity they wouldn't express some concern over issues such as Scotland's poorly performing legal system ...

The Society Expresses Concern at Situation in Pakistan

President of the Law Society of Scotland, Richard Henderson, highlights his concern at the threat to the rule of law in Pakistan in a letter sent to the Pakistan High Commissioner in London and the and Consul General in Glasgow. The letter reads:

"I am writing to you to express the concern of the Law Society of Scotland about recent and continuing events in Pakistan which as I understand it have involved the proclamation of an emergency and the continued placing of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in abeyance.

"I understand further that emergency restrictions have been put in place including restrictions on the operation of the courts and the arrest or detention of members of the legal profession. I have seen reports also which suggest repressive action has been taken in particular in relation to the legal profession in Pakistan.

"It is my view, speaking on behalf of the solicitor profession in Scotland, that the actions of the government of Pakistan in this matter strike at the heart of the rule of law in Pakistan. I am concerned at the arrest and continued detention of lawyers and judges in Pakistan and I call on the government of Pakistan not only to reflect seriously on its actions, but to take immediate steps to re-establish the rule of law including through the release of those judges and lawyers who may currently be under restriction, detention or arrest in Pakistan."


FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Contact Jody Fitchet at the Law Society of Scotland on 0131 476 8186 or 07785 533340. Email: jodyfitchet@lawscot.org.uk

Lawyers beaten in brutal crackdown by Musharraf


THE "emergency" regime of Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, ruthlessly crushed dissent yesterday, beating up lawyers and hauling civil-rights activists off to some of the country's most brutal jails.

Up to 2,000 people have been imprisoned since the state of emergency was declared on Saturday and elections due in January might be put back.

It looked last night as if the United States was moving to cut off General Musharraf, a key ally in its "war on terror".

A strongly-worded White House statement demanded that those detained under emergency regulations be released immediately, saying it was "deeply disturbed".

Later, in his first public comments on the events in Pakistan, George Bush, the US president, urged Gen Musharraf to "restore democracy as quickly as possible".

He added: "We expect there to be elections as soon as possible and for the president to remove his military uniform."

He said he had told Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state to deliver that message to Gen Musharraf by telephone. Speaking at a news conference in the West Bank earlier, Ms Rice had said Washington was reviewing its assistance to Pakistan, which has received $10 billion (£5 billion) in aid - mostly military - since Gen Musharraf threw his support behind the Americans after the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001.

The Dutch government has suspended development assistance - the first country to do so - but Britain is not following suit.

Asked if he would consider linking British development aid to Pakistan to human-rights issues, David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said: "Now is not the time for threats to aid that is important for the Pakistani people."

The country's leaders earlier said parliamentary elections scheduled for January might be pushed back by up to a year.

The attorney general called for the polls to be held on time, but Shaukat Aziz, the prime minister left open the possibility of a delay, saying: "The next general elections will be held according to the schedule or a programme finalised after consultation with all the stakeholders."

Critics say Gen Musharraf imposed emergency rule in a last-ditch attempt to cling to power.

His leadership is threatened by the Islamic militant movement that has spread from border regions to the capital, the re-emergence of Benazir Bhutto, a political rival and former prime minister, and an increasingly defiant supreme court, which has been virtually decimated in the past two days.

Lawyers protesting yesterday outside the courts in Karachi and Lahore were thrashed by baton-charging police amid clouds of tear gas. About 350 of them were rounded up in Lahore.

Lawyers, judges and human-rights activists appear to have been deemed the enemies of the regime, as the country slides towards totalitarian rule. Since Saturday, between 1,500 and 2,000 have been incarcerated.

"On the pretext of fighting militants, General Musharraf has mounted a coup against Pakistan's civil society," said Brad Adams, the Asia director at the campaign group Human Rights Watch. "It's clear it is aimed solely at keeping himself in power."

In the port city of Karachi, police raided the printing operation of the Jang Group, which publishes the country's biggest-selling newspaper in the national language, Urdu.

The management was warned against printing a planned supplement.

In Lahore, 54 people arrested on Sunday for attending a meeting at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan were transferred from police custody to the maximum security Kot Lakhpat jail. They included teachers, academics and corporate lawyers. They were charged with an unspecified offence and were not allowed bail - it had been thought they would be released.

Kamran Shafi, a retired army officer and now a leading newspaper columnist, said: "The army is trying to put the fear of God into people, so they just shut up and stay sitting. They want to ... teach us all a lesson."

The country's supreme court judges, most of whom were sacked on Saturday had vowed to go to the court in Islamabad yesterday, but were prevented from leaving their homes.

Rana Bhagwas Das, one of the dismissed judges, told a local television channel by phone that he had been locked into his house. "I have firm faith in God and hope that the constitution and the law prevail," he said.

Private TV channels have been off air under a government order since Saturday. In the absence of news, wild rumours have swept the country. Much of the country believed that Gen Musharraf had been secretly deposed by other army generals and placed under arrest. The government had to deny the rumour, calling it "a joke of the highest order".

Islamabad was under a state of siege, with security forces blocking off main roads and preventing even pedestrians from going near government buildings.

Mohammed Habur Rahim, a lawyer, said: "We are working under a dictator. These are now kangaroo courts."


GENERAL Pervez Musharraf's survival now rests on three people: George Bush, Benazir Bhutto and General Ashfaq Kiyani, his army second-in-command, writes Saeed Shah in Islamabad.

If any of these three figures breaks decisively away from him, he will be doomed.

Yesterday, in a desperate attempt to keep the US and Ms Bhutto on board, the government promised elections would held in January. Only a day earlier, prime minister Shaukat Aziz had stated it had not been decided if and when elections would take place.

While Ms Bhutto has condemned the "state of emergency" imposed on Saturday, tellingly, she has not brought millions of her supporters out on to the streets. Her Pakistan People's Party is one of the few political forces in Pakistan with real street power. In the absence of the PPP leading the resistance, Pakistan's civil society forces, crushed by years of suppression by successive regimes, may not be able to stage a large enough movement to threaten the general.

Shafqat Mahmood, a former member of parliament for the PPP, said: "If the Americans ditch him [Musharraf], Benazir will ditch him too.

"So the key is whether she stands by him. That will show us what American support he really has."

Ms Bhutto's sudden trip to Dubai in the middle of last week, so that she was out of the country when the emergency was announced, has set off feverish speculation about her complicity. Many believe that she is now in talks with Gen Musharraf about being part of a future government.

Ayesha Siddiqa, a political analyst, said: "I think she [Ms Bhutto] was privy to the whole business of sacking the judiciary. Neither she nor Musharraf are happy with a powerful judiciary."

Ms Bhutto will have to insist elections are held, in order to retain some credibility, even if they take place under the emergency regulations. That might also be enough for the Americans, whose interest in Gen Musharraf is linked to the war on terror.

Even if elections are now held, the sacked judges are highly unlikely to be re-instated.

Ms Bhutto's party maintains she opposes army rule but believes that it is only possible to negotiate change with the military. She has not called for protests because she fears that it is not possible to confront a military regime without risking civil war or extremists coming to power.

Farhatullah Babar, Ms Bhutto's spokesman, said: "The movement to topple the Shah of Iran [in 1979] was a broad movement of different democratic forces. But in the end, it was overtaken by the mullahs."

The White House put out a strongly worded denunciation of the emergency last night, saying it was "deeply disturbed" and demanding the arrested lawyers and activists be freed immediately.

It remains unclear to a cynical Pakistani public whether the Americans really mean it. Do they continue to back Gen Musharraf behind the scenes?

The Pakistan army is with him as long as he maintains the backing of the US and billions of dollars in military aid.

Rumours swept Pakistan yesterday that the second most senior army commander, Gen Kiyani, had secretly deposed his boss.

In most countries that would be fanciful but in Pakistan, an internal army coup is entirely possible.

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