Calls emerged from various quarters on Wednesday for a probe into allegations made by six Islamabad High Court (IHC) judges against interference in judicial affairs by the country’s intelligence apparatus.

Amid the calls, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa summoned a full court meeting of the apex court’s judges, with the session lasting a little over two hours.

On Tuesday, six IHC judges — out of a total strength of eight — wrote a startling letter to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) members, regarding attempts to pressure judges through abduction and torture of their relatives as well as secret surveillance inside their homes.

The letter addressed to SJC members — CJP Isa, Supreme Court Justices Mansoor Ali Shah and Munib Akhtar and IHC CJ Aamer Farooq and Peshawar High Court CJ Mohammad Ibrahim Khan — also questioned if there existed a state policy to “intimidate” and coerce judges.

The six judges also supported the demand of former IHC judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui for a probe into the allegations of interference by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) operatives.

The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) said today that the allegations required “serious actions by the judiciary as an institution”.

In a press release, SCBA President Shahzad Shaukat took “serious exception to the undue interference” claimed by the judges.

“Such issues should be addressed in a befitting manners and any apprehensions/ misgivings which might be in the minds of honorable judges should be adequately addressed,” he said.

It declared “unequivocally that bar associations, particularly the SCBA, will not tolerate any incidents aimed at undermining the independence, integrity, authority and functioning of judicial institutions”.

In an open letter, SCBA Additional Secretary Sardar Shahbaz Ali Khosa urged CJP Isa to take suo motu notice of the matter under Article 184(3) of the Constitution and conduct a “thorough and transparent (live) hearing” of the case.

He also highlighted a “recent crackdown on journalists and media outlets who have reported on these alleged interferences” and urged CJP Isa to summon prominent journalists across Pakistan to detail the “extent of interference and coercion that the free press is being meted to on an everyday basis”.

The SCBA official further called for a meeting of the SJC to be convened on the issue and “not only ascertain the way forward but also fix responsibilities”.

The IHC Bar Association (IHCBA) demanded the CJP hold a “transparent inquiry” into the matter and that legal action be taken against those involved. In a press release, the association said its cabinet held an emergency meeting. The lawyers’ body “strongly condemned the interference of one institution into the matters of another institution”.

It further demanded that the “judiciary ensure independent decisions according to the law and the Constitution without fear or danger”. It also commended the six IHC judges for their “courage and bravery”.

The association said that if needed, it would prove to be a vanguard for the judiciary’s independence and “would take every step needed for the supremacy of the Constitution and the law”.

“The IHCBA would not even hesitate from holding a lawyers representative convention, countrywide lawyers convention, strike, hunger strike and running a movement if needed for the judiciary’s independence,” it asserted.

The Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) demanded “immediate action against those intelligence agencies and personnel involved in such nefarious activities and [that] they be punished for undermining and subverting of the Constitution and the law”.

It further demanded “immediate action by the SJC against those judges who cooperate with such intelligence agencies, thus playing havoc with the administration of justice”.

Condemning the alleged interference in the “strongest terms”, the LHCBA said it was a “serious threat to the rule of law and independence of judiciary”.

The body said that the current CJP and his predecessor — Justice Isa and Justice Umar Ata Bandial — “failed to act timely to avert this grave situation”. It further said that the IHC chief justice had “failed to protect his fellow judges and the judges subordinate to IHC”, terming his conduct “not appreciable”.

“We expect from CJP to act towards the protection of judges of the superior courts as well as the subordinate courts […] and to create conditions and [an] environment in which judges can dispense justice without any fear or favour,” the LHCBA said.

The Sindh High Court Bar Association (SHCBA) demanded that a judicial commission comprising three SC judges be formed to “investigate and probe the allegations and take firm steps to stop such interference”.

In a resolution passed after an urgent meeting of its managing committee, the SHCBA called for “institutional mechanisms to safeguard the independence of the judiciary, including measures to protect judges from threats and external influence and strengthen accountability mechanisms within the judiciary”.

The lawyers’ body strongly condemned any alleged interference “by the executive branch or operatives of intelligence agencies”. It termed the alleged surveillance of a judge through video recordings “the worst form of intrusion of privacy”.

“While we strongly condemn such tactics, we appreciate the honourable judges for the strong stance taken by them,” the resolution said.

The Balochistan Bar Council also called on CJP Isa to take a suo motu notice of the allegations. In a press release, the council expressed its concerns over the matter and said the alleged interference in judicial matters was “condemnable and unacceptable in any circumstances”.

The bar council also demanded that the Pakistan Bar Council convene a conference of lawyer representatives from across the country to decide on a plan of action.

In a press release, the Pakistan Bar Council said that the concerns raised by the lawyers should have been sent to the CJP as SJC is not the competent authority to address this issue.

It said that the allegations of interference and intimidation are significant, calling for a thorough inquiry conducted under senior SC judges constituted by the CJP.

“It is essential to reiterate that what is needed is not a trial by media but a rigorous and comprehensive inquiry/investigation conducted within the framework of the law,” it said, adding that the PBC was ready to support and cooperate with any efforts aimed at ensuring the integrity and independence of the judiciary.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bar Council (KPBC) also expressed “concern and reservation” over the alleged judicial interference described in the judges’ letter.

In a statement issued today, KPBC Vice-Chairman Sadiq Ali Mohmand deemed the IHC judges’ letter “a worrisome development” and added that “interference in judicial affairs by secret agencies is condemnable.”

The KP Bar Council, he said, firmly maintained that “judges must take action upon the interference of a person or institution in judicial affairs” and reiterated that they will play their role in upholding the rule of law and defending the Constitution.

PTI calls for ‘impartial inquiry’

Meanwhile, a statement posted on the X account of former prime minister Imran Khan — who is currently incarcerated — “welcomed the six brave judges […] who have highlighted the alarming state of affairs of the higher judiciary” and called for an “impartial inquiry” into the matter.

“This letter with its two annexures, brings on the record the brazen and shameful interference of the intelligence agencies in judicial matters, which is a damning indictment against the independence of the judiciary in the country,” the statement said.

“The fact that the judges have been intimidated and coerced into giving judgments based on political expediency raises a lot of questions on the fairness of the courts and their judgments over the last two years,” it added.

It said the letter also questioned the “credibility of the state narrative with results to May 9, an event instigated within the IHC when Chairman PTI Imran Khan was abducted and dragged from the court premises by paramilitary forces, who stormed the building of the IHC”.

Highlighting that a “wave of political victimisation has been unleashed” against the party, the PTI said that “courts have been unable to assert their authority or dispense justice”.

The statement emphasised that as the IHC and its lower courts were where most of the cases against Imran were sub judice, “the fact that this court is under influence and pressure raises serious doubts on these cases as well”.

Separately, PTI MNA Gohar Ali Khan called for ensuring the safety of the judges who had written the letter as well as their families. Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, he demanded that an inquiry be conducted by a judicial commission.

“We also demand that the inquiry, investigation and proceedings are conducted by the SC in open court. This is extremely important for the independence of the judiciary,” he said.

He further said that the letter detailed alleged interference in “politically consequential matters”. He said that after the letter, it was clear that “due process” was violated in the cases against Imran. “This is proof that all those decisions are now null and void,” he said, calling for Imran’s immediate release.

He also called on legal bar councils and associations to set aside political differences and make efforts to rid the judiciary of “interference”. He assured the country’s lawyers that the PTI would stand with them in this endeavour.

“Politics is silent today. We stand in solidarity with the judiciary,” he said as he urged the SC to constitute a larger bench to hear the matter from tomorrow.

“This is not a letter, this is a charge sheet. This is a complaint and there should be further proceedings,” he said.

At the same presser, PTI Secretary General Omar Ayub Khan termed the letter a “charge sheet” and “an indictment”.

“The system has been exposed […] the rule of law no longer exists,” the MNA said. He further said that it had now become clear that the target of the alleged interference was Imran.

SC moved for formation of inquiry commission

Separately, Advocate Mian Dawood approached the SC seeking the immediate formation of a high-power inquiry commission to probe the allegations. He further requested that “strict action be taken or directed against all those found guilty of the misconduct in result of the probe”.

Dawood named the law, defence and interior ministries, the IHC, and the six IHC judges as respondents in the case. He contended that the IHC judges’ letter “seemed to be an attempt to shaken to [sic] confidence of the public on the judiciary and to weakening [sic] the independence of the judiciary”.

The petition noted that the letter “gave the impression that the executive and the ISI is interested in influencing” cases pertaining to Imran and went on to mention instances where the IHC had provided him relief.

The plea further said the judges’ letter “seemed to be a designed move because as soon as the letter emerged on national media, the PTI leaders, workers and trolls started campaigning on social media” against Justice Farooq, CJP Isa and other judges.

It stated that the judges’ letter had put the Pakistan Army and the judiciary “under public debate and public criticism”.

The petition argued that a “campaign” was launched against the CJP and other SC judges whenever the apex court “heard and passed strict orders in the cases of Bahria Town (Pvt) Ltd”.

Judges lauded for showing ‘bravery’

PPP’s human rights cell president and former senator Farhatullah Babar said that the letter by the six judges about “their coercion, intimidation and invasion of privacy by agencies is beyond wildest imagination”.

“Sweeping it under the rug is inviting disaster, hastening implosion. Eternal gratitude to judges for standing up and calling [a] bluff at [a] huge risk,” he said.

“As an advocate of the high courts of Pakistan, I stand in solidarity with the judges of IHC,” said Barrister Khadija Siddiqi.

Activist Usama Khilji said that “the bar must stand with the bench with full force to uphold the independence of the judiciary in Pakistan”.

Human rights lawyer Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir termed the letter “huge”. “Everyone has known the pressure the courts have been under but the bravery of these 6 judges must be applauded,” she said.

Former attorney general of Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf said the allegations should be investigated due to their gravity. Speaking to Geo News, he said, “If these allegations are true, and valid, then the institutions which are being implicated should be checked.”

The senior counsel said that investigation should be conducted first and foremost by the SC. However, he added, if the SC did not hold a probe or an open hearing, the government should form a high-level commission “without wasting any time to hear and end the issue for all times to come”.

“In my opinion, the judges’ code of conduct does state that when such a situation requires them to defend themselves, they can,” Ausaf said.

“The question is not whether by writing this in the code of conduct will impact the number of incidents; the question is of the judiciary and other national institutions,” he said.

The lawyer highlighted that comments were made pertaining to institutions that “exposed internal issues” and that there were efforts to “weaken every institution”.

On whether the matter could be steered in the right direction, the former AGP asserted, “Of course, we can. I think the biggest responsibility right now lies with the CJP. He is not the chief justice of the Supreme Court but of Pakistan.

“It is his and his institution’s responsibility to solve these matters as quickly as possible, whether that’s through a suo moto notice or they look at it on the administrative side,” Ausaf said.

Complaint filed by judges is my vindication: Shaukat Siddiqui

Former IHC judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui said that the complaint filed by the judges was a vindication for him, adding that when he had raised the matter earlier in 2018, he was “[left] alone completely”.

While speaking to Geo News, he said that after his 2018 comments against the agencies’ interference, the judges in the “burning issue” today had turned their backs on him.

“When this matter concerned me, the Islamabad district bar association […] High Court Bar Association […] Islamabad Bar council, no one raised their voice in my favour,” he said, adding that the letter today substantiated his claims made on July 21, 2018.

He stated that he was completely in favour of an inquiry and would present himself accordingly for proceedings at any level, adding that he supported the demand of the sitting IHC judges.

The letter

Dated March 25, the letter was signed by IHC Justices Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, Babar Sattar, Sardar Ejaz Ishaq Khan, Arbab Muhammad Tahir and Saman Rafat Imtiaz.

It mentioned seven instances of alleged interference and intimidation “to influence the outcome of cases of interest” by the intelligence officials, pointing out that when two out of three judges in the bench hearing the plea to disqualify PTI leader Imran Khan for concealing his alleged daughter opined that the case was not maintainable, they were pressured by “operatives of the ISI” through friends and relatives.

The situation got so stressful that one of the judges had to be admitted to hospital due to high blood pressure, the letter said.

According to the six judges, the matter was brought to the notice of the IHC chief justice and the then-CJP. The former informed the judges that he had “spoken to the DG-C of ISI and had been assured that no official from ISI will approach the judges of the IHC”.

The letter complained that “interference on the part of intelligence operatives” continued even after IHC CJ’s assurance.

It also referred to the abduction of an IHC judge’s brother-in-law by armed men who claimed to be ISI operatives. The victim was “administered electric shocks” and “forced to record a video” making false allegations, apparently against the judge.

“Subsequently, a complaint was filed against the judge of IHC before the SJC, accompanied by an orchestrated media campaign to bring pressure to bear upon the judge to resign.”

The letter revealed that in May 2023, an IHC inspection judge reported to the chief justice that district court judges were being intimidated and crackers were thrown into the house of one additional district and sessions judge.

The judge was even called to the IHC to verify the claims which he confirmed. But instead of probing the allegations, the judge “was made officer on special duty and transferred to IHC, before being sent back to Punjab as he was a judicial officer on deputation”.

The letter said that last year, during routine maintenance, an IHC judge found that his official residence had been bugged with spy cameras concealed in his drawing room and bedroom.

When data from surve­illance equipment was rec­overed, it showed that “pr­i­vate videos of the judge and his family members” were stored. “The matter was brought to the attention of the IHC chief justice. There has been no determination of who installed the equipment and who is to be held accountable…”, the letter added.

Along with their letter to the SJC, the six judges also attached copies of letters written to Justice Farooq on May 10, 2023 and Feb 12, 2024.

The letters mentioned, among other complaints, ISI officials’ efforts to pressurise IHC judges and probe into the tax records of at least one judge “to seek a certain outcome”.

They added that it was imperative to determine whether there was a “policy on the part of the executive … implemented by intelligence operatives” to intimidate judges.

“[The] allegations of interference by operatives of ISI have been dealt with and relief has been granted to a former judge of IHC who was wronged. We believe that while such action was necessary, it may not be sufficient,” the letter said about Justice Siddiqui’s case.

The judges noted that the SJC’s code of conduct for judges did not outline the response to such incidents “that are tantamount to intimidation and interfere with judicial independence”.

They called for a judicial convention to discuss the interference of intelligence officials “that undermines independence of the judiciary”.

The consultation would help the Supreme Court to determine a course of action that judges could take “when they find themselves at the receiving end”, the letter said.

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