The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC), would like to express its grave concern at the suspension of the rule of law in Pakistan and attacks on and extra-judicial detention of judges, lawyers and human rights activists in Pakistan following the imposition of a state of emergency by General Pervez Musharraf on 3 rd November 2007.

The BHRC is the international human rights arm of the Bar of England and Wales. It is an independent body primarily concerned with the protection of the rights of advocates and judges around the world. It is also concerned with defending the rule of law and internationally recognised legal standards relating to the right to fair trial.

According to the information received, in a context where the President Musharraf has imposed a state of emergency in Pakistan, suspended the constitution, dismissed the Chief Justice and arrested leading lawyers, a house arrest warrant has been issued against Ms. Hina Jilani, UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on the situation of human rights defenders and recent key note speaker at the BHRC workshop on the importance of lawyers and human rights defenders at the Bar Conference of England & Wales on 3 rd November in London.

Ms Hina Jilani said today that: “The situation is very disturbing in Pakistan. The Human Rights Commission, the Lawyer’s Committee, and the Judicial Committee are under attack by a military regime and it is the responsibility of the international community to act in defence of human rights defenders in Pakistan who are protesting against the erosion of the Rule of Law, the independence of the judiciary and the suspension of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in Pakistan”.

According to the information received, approximately 55 lawyers have been arrested in Karachi and over 300 lawyers have been arrested in Lahore, many of whom it is reported have been hospitalised due to the alleged use of excessive force on the part of the Pakistan authorities. One lawyer, Mr Ashtar Ausaf Ali, reportedly suffered a heart attack following his arrest. Amongst those arrested is the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr Iftikhar Chaudhry, on whose behalf the Bar Human Rights filed an amicus curiae brief in May 2007, as well as Ms. Asma Jahangir, Human Rights Committee of Pakistan Chairperson, human rights lawyer and United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. She was put under house arrest late on November 3, 2007, under a 90 days preventive detention order (SO (IS-I)3 – 24 / 200), issued by the Home Department of the Government of Punjab and reportedly to prevent her making “inflammatory speeches”.

Voicing his concern today Mark Muller QC, Chair of the BHRC, condemned this recent spate of attacks against members of the judiciary and human rights activists saying that ““The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales is dedicated to the protection of persecuted judges and lawyers as well as the rule of law around the world. The independence of the judiciary is a fundamental tenet of the rule of law and a core element in any democracy. So too is the existence of an independent Bar and legal profession. As such the BHRC has watched with increasing alarm at the events unfolding in Pakistan. It deplores the recent unconstitutional removal and detention of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the unprovoked attacks on lawyers by Pakistan’s security authorities in the wake of protests against the imposition of the state of emergency.”

It is estimated that one in four lawyers in Pakistan have been either imprisoned or placed under house arrest due to their protests against the illegal imposition of martial law. On November 4th the military raided the offices of the HRCP and arrested fifty-five of its members. They have been charged with crimes against public order, however it appears that there arrest is related to their continued criticism of President Musharraf and the one party rule that he has imposed on Pakistan since the coup that brought him to power in 1999.

The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) calls upon the Pakistani authorities to restore fundamental freedoms and constitutional order including the reinstatement of judicial officials to their offices. In particular, it urges the authorities to desist from assaulting lawyers engaged in peaceful protest and to release forthwith those lawyers detained for merely protesting at the imposition of the state of emergency. The detention of judicial officials and advocates for merely seeking to uphold their offices is wholly unjustified as a counter-insurgency measure. When the rule of law is obliterated in this manner there is nothing to protect in the name of democracy. If Pakistan is to preserve any chance of a return to democracy its society must respect and protect its independent legal system.