ISLAMABAD/LAHORE, March 12: As the nation waited with bated breath for the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to proceed against Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, lawyers’ anger against the action burst out across the country on Monday.
Police stood ready in major cities to act against angry lawyers and succeeded in keeping the protests under control in all cities, except in Lahore, where they baton-charged lawyers breaking through police barricades, causing injuries to 40 and arresting about 25. Included among the injured were PPP Senator Advocate Sardar Latif Khan Khosa, Advocate Mehreen Raja MNA and SCBA Secretary Zulfikar Bokhari.
Lawyers in Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, Muzaffarabad and other cities and towns also boycotted courts to protest the government action of making the chief justice ‘non-functional’ without waiting for the SJC decision on the reference filed against him.
In Islamabad, heavy contingents of riot police, barricading the Supreme Court, presented an ominous sight.
In the morning, a large number of Supreme Court advocates gathered outside the court No. 1 in the Supreme Court where acting Chief Justice Javed Iqbal was presiding over a three-member bench to hear a long list of service matters.
The lawyers also surrounded the Leader of the House in the Senate, Advocate Wasim Sajjad. They started shouting ‘shame, shame’ and ‘black sheep’ the moment he came out of the courtroom after attending a brief hearing.
Right from the court of civil judge to the Supreme Court, normal proceedings could not be held because of the lawyers’ boycott, said Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Munir A. Malik while addressing a press conference later in the day.
Mr Malik expressed apprehensions that he and other senior members might be picked up by security personnel to break the association's unrelenting commitment to the cause of the judiciary, but assured the media that a second line of leadership had already been formed to continue the struggle in case anything happened to the leaders.
He asserted the lawyers would attend a conference called by the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) before the SJC proceedings.
“If we meet any resistance, we will hold our meeting on the road right on the spot where we are blocked," he told reporters at the association's office here.
He congratulated the lawyers’ community “for showing absolute unity” and said the successful strike reflected that “our cause was just”.
The association would also file an application before the SJC to consider it as a party to defend Justice Chaudhry as his counsel. A book had been placed at the office of the association to be signed by lawyers willing to join the team constituted to defend Justice Chaudhry, he added.
“We will also lay a virtual siege to the premises where the SJC would meet,” he announced.
He said like Lahore and Islamabad, complete strike was observed in Karachi where lawyers staged a sit-in on M.A. Jinnah Road, while no court proceedings could be held in Peshawar, Multan, Sukkur, Nausheroferoz and Quetta.
Reports late in the night suggested that Mr Malik had gone underground to evade arrest to be able to take part in protests on Tuesday.
LAHORE: At least 40 lawyers and 15 policemen were injured when they clashed on The Mall during a protest march. Police also detained around two dozen lawyers.
"This is just an example of state terrorism," PPP Senator Khosa told Dawn.
The lawyers were peaceful and had no intention to disturb law and order, he said, adding that it was the police that went violent.
However, the police said the lawyers dishonoured their commitment.
"Lawyers had given an undertaking that they would not march on The Mall. They had given an assurance that they would keep their protest within the premises of the high court and Aiwan-i-Adl," Lahore police chief Malik Mohammed Iqbal said.
He claimed that 35 policemen, including an SP and two DSPs, were injured.
"The police acted only to guard public property and control law and order," he said.
In reaction to the police claim, lawyers’ bodies said the number of injured lawyers was over 200.
Before getting onto The Mall, the lawyers boycotted all court proceedings and held a meeting on the Lahore High Court (LHC) premises.
Chanting slogans ‘Go Musharraf Go’ and ‘No Musharraf No’, hundreds of lawyers broke a police siege at one of the LHC's gates and reached The Mall at the GPO Chowk.
A heavy contingent of police surrounded the protesters as they reached the Regal Chowk and refused to let them proceed further. The police said the lawyers then started pelting them with stones and bricks.
The lawyers, however, said it was the police that started charging them with batons without any provocation.
In the meantime, another group of lawyers marching from Aiwan-i-Adl on the Lower Mall joined the protesting advocates at the Regal Chowk, which literally turned into a battlefield. Several lawyers and policemen sustained injuries. The police managed to push the protesters back to the GPO Chowk and further inside the high court. After about 20 minutes, the lawyers again emerged from the high court and attacked the police with bricks and stones, who took to their heels.
The police ran helter skelter and regrouped again when operations police chief SSP Aftab Cheema joined them. The police chief tried to clam down the lawyers, but to no avail. Responding to the police chief, Lahore High Court Bar Association's President Ahsan Bhoon began addressing the protesters, saying that the protest “against the state terrorism” would continue.
The clash continued for over half an hour. Injured lawyers and policemen were rushed to nearby hospitals.
QUETTA: All cases in the lower courts on Monday were adjourned to next dates in the wake of lawyers’ boycott.
However, a partial boycott was observed in the Balochistan High Court as some lawyers appeared before a division bench, comprising Chief Justice Amanullah Khan Yasinzai and Justice Akhtar Zaman Malghani, for the hearing of cases.
A meeting of the Balochistan Bar Council (BBC) which was to discuss the ongoing judicial crisis could not be held as the advocate-general of Balochistan, who is the chairman of the council, was out of station.
In a statement, BBC Vice-Chairman Amanullah Kanrani said that the council had not formally decided whether to support or oppose a call for boycott given by the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and the SCBA. All members were free to take their own decision, he added.
MUZAFFARABAD: Lawyers in Azad Jammu and Kashmir also boycotted court proceedings and held demonstrations.
In Muzaffarabad, the lawyers took out a procession from the district courts and marched on the main road in spite of heavy downpour.
In Islamabad, the All Pakistan Newspaper Society, during a scheduled meeting, decided to send a delegation to the residence of the Chief Justice to meet Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. However, when the delegation, led by APNS president Mir Shakilur Rahman, went to the CJ’s residence, it was stopped at a distance and not allowed to proceed.