IN yet another scandal which has embroiled the judiciary in controversy, a video purportedly showing an accountability court judge admitting he was blackmailed into giving a verdict against Nawaz Sharif in the Al Azizia reference has been made public by the PML-N — and promptly rejected by the judge at the centre of the scandal.

A day after Maryam Nawaz made explosive allegations about Arshad Malik’s so-called confession that he was pressured by “hidden hands” into convicting her father in a corruption case, the judge has issued a statement denying Ms Nawaz’s claims and termed the video “fabricated and false”. Not only has he rejected the video as one that was made by “twisting his conversations”, he has also levelled a counter-accusation against the PML-N, in which he claims that Mr Sharif’s representatives attempted to bribe and threaten him into cooperating with them as the case was being heard.

In a land where politics is truly the art of the possible, a claim as startling as the one made by Ms Nawaz should not be dismissed without a thorough investigation as uncertainty would run the risk of discrediting the judiciary. In fact, this fresh episode shines a light on the precarious relationship between the courts and those who wield influence.

In the past, Pakistan has been rocked by a scandal which laid bare the executive’s collusion with the judiciary when the Supreme Court in 2001 found that Justice Malik Muhammad Qayyum — one of the country’s most senior judges at the time — was biased in his handling of the case against Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari. The impropriety, famously known as the ‘Justice Qayyum tapes’ scandal, hinged on leaked audio conversations between the judge and the then head of the Ehtesab Bureau, who reportedly had told the judge to “give them [Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari] the full dose” ahead of the verdict. Not too long ago, then Islamabad High Court judge Shaukat Siddiqui, too, spoke of pressure tactics and intimidation by security agencies to manipulate court proceedings — an explosive allegation which resulted in an inquiry that found him guilty of misconduct and saw him removed from office.

Ironically for the PML-N — a party which has in the past been guilty of interfering in the judicial process — the accountability judge’s denial and counter-allegation of attempted bribery is not looking good for the party. However, the fact that the judge was engaging with members of the PML-N is even more troubling. It is not enough for a judge to say that he or she is incorruptible, for he or she must also be seen as independent.

Mixing with elements from the political class will hardly inspire confidence in a country where conspiracy theories find their own feet far too quickly. The current scandal must be investigated by the superior judiciary whose reputation is very much on the line each time the spectre of a compromised justice system raises its head.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2019

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