ISLAMABAD, March 11: Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has demanded that the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) should hold open proceedings on the reference against him sent by President Gen Pervez Musharraf.

This was stated by seasoned politician Air Marshal (retired) Asghar Khan after a meeting with Justice Chaudhry here on Sunday. The demand made by the suspended chief justice indicates that he is not ready to resign and is determined to contest the allegations levelled against him.

Asghar Khan is the first private citizen to be allowed by the government to meet the suspended chief justice since he was confined to his official residence after having been declared ‘non-functional’ on Friday.

Justice Chaudhry, according to Mr Khan, rejected the allegations as baseless and said he had not done anything wrong.

He stressed the need for an ‘open trial’ so that he got a fair opportunity to defend himself. Taking to Dawn, Air Marshal Khan quoted the CJP as saying that he had been held incommunicado and was not allowed to see his lawyers and friends. He said he was not being provided newspapers and his TV cable and telephones had been disconnected. Air Marshal Khan said security personnel asked his name when he reached the residence of the chief justice and he managed to enter the house while they were seeking instructions. He said he had met the chief justice as a citizen of Pakistan. He said the action against the chief justice was inappropriate and he should get an opportunity to defend himself.

Asked if he had been told by Justice Chaudhry about pressures on him to resign, he said they had not discussed the matter.

Though the retired Air Marshal got a chance to meet the ‘non-functional’ chief justice, a delegation of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) led by its acting Parliamentary Leader in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was denied the opportunity.

Observers see the meeting of Mr Khan with Justice Chaudhry as a tactical move by the government to create an impression that there are no restrictions on the non-functional chief justice. The government claims that Justice Chaudhry is neither under detention nor under house arrest.

“There are no restrictions on him,” Minister of State for Information Senator Tariq Azim told Dawn. He said the opposition was trying to politicise the matter, which was regrettable.

About the chief justice’s demand for open proceedings on the reference, he said it was entirely up to the Supreme Judicial Council to decide how it wanted to conduct the proceedings. “We expect that he will be given an opportunity to defend himself,” he remarked.

Senator Azim said the court was completely independent and the public had full confidence in its professionalism.

Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao also denied reports that the non-functional chief justice was under house arrest and said anybody who wanted to see him could do it. Talking to newsmen here, the minister termed the threats to lay siege to the Supreme Judicial Council illegal and said nobody would be allowed to take the law into his hands.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) have decided to file a joint application to the Supreme Judicial Council seeking permission to be heard during the proceedings.

SCBA president Munir Malik said he would go to the residence of the chief justice on Monday morning with other members of the SCBA and try to meet him.

A strike will be observed on Monday and a ‘black day’ on Tuesday by members of all bar councils, bar associations and councils of lawyers.

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