ISLAMABAD, March 13: In a day of high drama on the streets of the federal capital, the ‘suspended’ Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, tried to march up to the Supreme Court along with his wife and children, seeking justice amidst an orchestrated official campaign that accuses him of misconduct and misuse of authority.

Having been roughed up and prevented from marching on, Justice Chaudhry was briefly confined to the nearby Balochistan House. Later, after some persuasion he was driven amidst tight security to the apex court to defend himself. Scores of lawyers present there ignored the police cordon to greet him by showering flower petals and raising anti-government slogans.

After an initial attempt by security officials failed to prevent a rousing reception for the ‘suspended’ chief justice, better sense prevailed among police which, instead of using the traditional high-handed methods, stepped back to allow the lawyers and some opposition politicians to take Justice Chaudhry inside the court house in the form of a procession.

This was the first time since his ‘suspension’ on Friday that Justice Chaudhry had been seen in the public. And what a sight it was! He was brought to his own court in a situation where the city which had been under police siege since morning.

All entry points to Islamabad were being watched by security officials to prevent lawyers from coming to the city, and the area around the Chief Justice's residence had been barricaded. From the Presidency to the Foreign Office and beyond, the area had many rings of barbed wires thrown on the main road and streets as if a major terrorist attack was being prevented.

All these arrangements were meant to hold in-camera proceedings of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), which began hearing of the reference filed by President Pervez Musharraf against Justice Chaudhry.

Despite tight security, dozens of lawyers managed to slip through the barbed wires and police barricades. So did many opposition politicians and a large number of journalists.

It was also a heyday for opposition politicians. Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Raja Zafarul Haq, Imran Khan and a host of PML-N and PPP leaders were present there to show solidarity with the ‘suspended’ chief justice.

And by the time Justice Chaudhry was brought outside the court premises, a large crowd had assembled there to greet him with slogans of support. As leaders of the opposition, particularly those like Liaquat Baloch of the MMA, joined the lawyers to climb over Justice Chaudhry’s car and take his virtual ‘custody’, the officials decided that any attempt to stop the crowd might have disastrous consequences. The police allowed the crowd to take control of the events, and soon opposition MNA and seasoned lawyer Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan and others escorted a visibly harassed Justice Chaudhry inside the court premises.

As Justice Chaudhry got the first chance to speak to the media, he decided to speak his mind. "I am not going to resign as allegations against me are useless," he told reporters after coming inside the court premises.

Even in the court house, he refused the protocol that the officials had suddenly decided to accord him. On entering the judge's block of the Supreme Court building, he refused to wait in the chambers meant for judges, saying he would prefer to sit in the office of any clerk before attending in-camera proceedings of the SJC.

However, he freshened up in a court house dispensary and refused to appear before the SJC without his panel of counsel, comprising Aitzaz Ahsan, vice-chairman of Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) Ali Ahmed Kurd, President of Supreme Court Bar Association Munir A. Malik, Tariq Mehmood and Hamid Khan.

Finally, when he appeared before the SJC, he submitted a four-page statement which, among other things, called for reconstitution of the judicial council by excluding three members against whom he had raised objections.

The SJC then decided to serve a notice on Attorney-General Makhdoom Ali Khan for March 16 to respond to the objections, Hamid Khan told reporters after an hour-long proceeding.

The attorney-general had also been directed to ensure that Justice Chaudhry should have access to his counsel, he added.

Headed by the acting Chief Justice, Justice Javed Iqbal, the SJC comprised Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, Justice Sardar Mohammed Raza Khan, Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Justice Iftikhar Hussain Chaudhry and Chief Justice of Sindh High Court Justice Sabhiuddin Ahmed.

In his objections, the ‘suspended’ chief justice stated that the acting chief justice had been appointed contrary to Article 180 of the Constitution which provided that the acting chief justice could be appointed when the office of the chief justice becomes vacant.

Moreover, under Article 209 of the Constitution, reference against the chief justice could be heard only by the senior-most judge who, in the ongoing situation, is Justice Rana Bhagwandas.

There was no urgency to convene the SJC meeting in the absence of Justice Bhagwandas who is abroad till March 22, said the statement.

It added that a reference was pending against Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar before the SJC in a case of financial misappropriation in the Shah Latif Bhatai University, Khairpur. Justice Dogar had administered oath to the acting chief justice on Friday last. According to the statement, the LHC chief justice could not sit in the council since more than one reference of misconduct was pending against him before the SJC. He said the LHC chief justice had also developed strong hostilities against him as he had not accepted his recommendations of advocates and judicial officers for elevation as judge of the high court. Moreover, his elevation as the judge of the apex court was also opposed by him in August 2005 for some reasons which could not be divulged now.

“We are also not on speaking terms with each other,” Justice Chaudhry said and demanded a public inquiry to apprise the people of the nature of allegations against him.

He said he had little doubt that if the inquiry was fair, he would be exonerated of all charges.

In his statement, he also mentioned the ‘sufferings’ he and his family, including his seven-year-old child, had been undergoing since March 9.

He said his official residence was besieged by heavy contingent of police and agency sleuths, without any justification. Moreover, all vehicles in his use had been taken away through a lifter, he said, adding that only one vehicle had been brought back by a lifter, and that too without keys.

The Supreme Court staff, attached with the chief justice, was also reportedly missing and had been kept at some unknown place.

"I believe that they have been detained just to fabricate evidence against me," the statement by Justice Chaudhry said. "I have learnt that my chamber has also been sealed and reportedly files have been handed over to the ISI," he alleged.

Due to heavy deployment, the statement said, the chief justice or his family has not been allowed to go outside. Similarly, no one was allowed to meet him freely, he said.

“Even my colleagues have no access. And whenever they wanted to visit, they were asked to wait for a considerable period of time during which permission was sought from high-ups,” he said.

He said his children were also not allowed to go to school, college and university; and facilities like telephone, cable and Internet, as well as basic amenities had been denied.

Meanwhile, the PBC has again called for a strike on Wednesday to protest against what they called the manhandling of Justice Chaudhry and his family as well as police brutality against lawyers in Lahore on Monday.

In addition, two lawyers will observe a token hunger strike daily in the Supreme Court Bar room till the logical conclusion of the events.

At the end of the hearing, Justice Chaudhry again refused an official car and used a silver colour jeep of PPP leader Advocate Zamarud Khan.

Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan accompanied him in the vehicle which left the apex court at 4pm. He was escorted by five police vehicles. Earlier in the day, when Justice Chaudhry was still confined to his official residence, owner-editor of The Nation, Arif Nizami, was allowed to go inside and hold a brief meeting.

A few minutes later, panic struck the area as US Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker drove past the police barricade along with his security officials.

Officials, however, said he did not make any attempt to go inside the Chief Justice’s residence, and drove back after viewing the situation.

The proceedings are adjourned till 3pm on March 16.

LAHORE: Lawyers in Lahore and elsewhere in Punjab observed black day by boycotting court proceedings.

Except for Ferozwala, where three lawyers and a policeman were injured in a clash, no violence was reported from anywhere in the province.

QUETTA: A complete strike was observed in Quetta where all shops, markets, shopping centres and business concerns remained closed.

Lawyers boycotted court proceedings in Quetta and other parts of the province for the fourth consecutive day.

MUZAFFARABAD: Lawyers in Azad Kashmir held demonstrations on the second consecutive day. They boycotted courts and staged demonstrations to express solidarity with the lawyers’ community in Pakistan.