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Justice — only for a few

July 09, 2019

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The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

FURTIVELY taken videos are being leaked, by everyone, and everywhere. If it was the NAB chairman who was in the eye of the storm a few short weeks ago, it is now the turn of the accountability judge who decided Nawaz Sharif’s fate after he was disqualified by the Supreme Court.

Read: Accountability judge 'blackmailed' into issuing verdict against Nawaz: Maryam

The PML-N alleges the video shows that the judge convicted Nawaz Sharif under pressure and how the former prime minister is innocent, while the ruling party has pointed out the need for forensically establishing the authenticity of the video before rushing to conclusions. The judge, too, jumped into the fray a day later amid claims that the only pressure he faced was from the Sharif family itself.

Read: No pressure on me to convict Nawaz Sharif, says judge Arshad Malik; calls videos 'fake, lies'

Horror and dismay (which, along with anger, are becoming our national emotions) have been expressed all around: at the injustice meted out to Nawaz Sharif by his supporters (as if they didn’t know before Saturday that there had been anything wrong); at the cheek of an alleged murderer who is said to have been involved in this video; at the judge’s alleged behaviour of meeting and hobnobbing with people known to be close to an accused whose case the former was hearing; and at the intentions of the daughter who revealed the information in a press conference and not the ‘relevant’ forum.

And of course, there are the dark rumblings by senior journalists of other videos which are yet to be made public; the implications being that the system will be shaken.

All of them want a flawed judicial system which they can manipulate.

But what does the video reveal that we did not already know before?

Since when has the judicial system in Pakistan ever been so independent that it dispenses justice as ‘blindly’ as expected? From the Bhutto trial to the recent judgements against the various PML-N leaders, there is no dearth of commentary on what appear to be the problems of the judgements; one need only read the decisions granting bail to Nawaz Sharif or Hanif Abbasi to see how flawed the justice system is.

And while there is commentary by the dozen and talk shows every day in which the plight of the imprisoned politicians is highlighted, rarely do the same voices speak of the vulnerable and the ordinary who are locked behind bars. They too are victims of our flawed system, but few care.

Remember Aasia Bibi? Or better still, why not speak of Junaid Hafeez, a blasphemy accused, who continues to suffer in jail because his religion makes his case less important internationally and the state is under no pressure to let him go? Dawn reported in 2016 that his lawyer (who took over after his predecessor was killed for agreeing to represent Hafeez) could not get the court to move the trial to Lahore because there was just not ‘enough’ evidence that the accused or those defending him faced a threat to their lives. The young man has spent years in solitary confinement and yet we need a video and a political issue to wonder about one case, one prisoner, and one judge.

Why did the judge of the leaked video fame not report that he was facing pressure or threats, huffed and puffed one commentator, after the judge issued a denial in which he blamed the Sharifs for pressuring him.

But for years, we have discussed the pressure on judges who had to preside over cases involving known militants. And for an equal number of years we also discussed the need for trials where the identity of judges and witnesses could be kept hidden. The Protection of Pakistan Act was passed to address these problems (and others), but then military courts were established, the number of terrorist attacks went down, and with them, the debate over the safety of judges was also pushed to the back-burner.

A prisoner with schizophrenia died in jail because our judicial system is not equipped to deal with mental illnesses — we should be grateful that he was not hanged as he was sentenced to death. But it did not make us think of the system.

A chief justice of the country’s highest court passed judgements which his successors are now overturning; he behaved like a celebrity raising awareness and money for a cause while in his robes, but a video makes us worry about one robed man and his judgements.

For our ruling elite, horror and dismay is expressed only when they are caught in the crossfire of this rickety judicial system. Hence, Imran Khan only spoke of it when the PTI’s various petitions on election-related matters didn’t get traction in the old days when the PML-N was living comfortably on Constitution Avenue, and Imran Khan was forced to camp out on D Chowk.

The PML-N, on the other hand, found the judicial system reliable when the election results of 2013 were judged kosher and believed in the sanctity of the judiciary from 2008 to 2013 when the PPP was the only target.

It suited them politically then to believe in the sanctity of the judicial system — but not now.

The PPP followed in their footsteps when Panama took place. Earlier, when they were desperate to get some relief from the Iftikhar Chaudhry court during its tenure, the party approached the courts to reopen the Bhutto murder trial. But since then, there has been little interest in righting a wrong judicial decision.

All of them want a flawed judicial system which they can manipulate; and they kick up a fuss only when they are caught at the wrong end.

But none of them are willing to reform a system which can then provide justice to everyone — from a former prime minister to a Hindu girl who disappears in Sindh and appears in Islamabad to claim she is married to a young man accused of blasphemy. When will we learn that justice will come in individual cases when the larger problems are addressed? Till then, it is there to be (ab)used by the strongest — and that is why Nawaz Sharif’s case or the allegations by Maryam Nawaz will reverberate with only the few powerful people who take turns strutting around on Constitution Avenue.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2019