A Pakistani Lawyer’s Testimony

[Editors’ Note: The following was written by a Karachi based lawyer, OMAR K. Throughout his legal career he has been active in social causes, including prisoner’s rights and causes and the issue of forced evictions carried out by the state. Omar’s friends are now incredibly worried for his safety as he continues to be outspoken and active in resisting the draconian measures passed to put down the judiciary and the lawyers in Pakistan. The following is his account of living as a lawyer under this increasingly brutal emergency]

On November 5, 2007, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, heavily armed police, intelligence and other law enforcement agencies laid siege on the courts of Pakistan. As usual, and like most lawyers, I arrived at 815 at the High Court of Sindh. I was greeted at the gate by a policemen brandishing his weapon at me and asking me why I had come to Court. I told him I was a lawyer upon which he asked me to show my identity. I complied. Hurling abuses at me he “advised” that I should return if I did not want to get a beating and go to jail. I looked at the usual guard of the court premises but his refusal to meet my eye convinced me that there was nothing he could do. I did not return and instead entered the court premises. I felt that if I returned, I will have betrayed my own principles of standing for justice and fair play. I sensed that they would be aggression from the police but why would they want to hurt a non-political, non-active and gentle person who did not believe in violence. A short while later the fallacy of my beliefs was to be exposed.

While I was standing talking to my colleagues, we saw the police go wild at the orders of a superior officer. In riot gears, brandishing weapons and sticks, about a 100 policemen attacked us. Without an iota of exaggeration, these heavily armed policemen attacked unarmed and peaceful lawyers and seemed intensely happy at doing so. We all ran. Some of us who were not as nimble on their feet as others were caught by the police and beaten mercilessly. We were then brutally forced and locked in police vans which are used to transport convicted prisoners. Every one was stunned at this show of brute force but it did not end. The police went on mayhem inside the court premises and court buildings. Any person, who remotely resembled a lawyer was caught, beaten and dragged into police vans. A handful of lawyers had to lock themselves up in the Bar Room to avoid a beating. They remained locked in the Bar Room for many hours before the police finally decided to leave after demolishing our self respect and dignity.

Those of us who were arrested were taken to various police stations and put into lock ups. At midnight, we were told that we were being shifted to jail. We could not get bail as our fundamental rights were suspended. 60 lawyers were put into a police van 10 feet by 4 feet wide and 5 feet in height. We were squashed liked sardines. When the van reached the jail, we were told that we could not get off the van until orders of our detention were received by the jail authorities. Our older colleagues started to suffocate, some fainted while others started to panic because of claustrophobia. The police ignored our screams and refused to open the van doors. Finally, after 3 hours of remaining in the van we were let out and taken to mosquito infected barracks where the food given to us smelled like sewerage water.

A week has passed since Musharaff trampled our dignity. Over a 100 of my colleagues are still being held in jail still. Condemned unheard. No remedy available. Their only sin–they are from the legal profession.

Every day, lawyers are being arrested. Any body who questions the emergency is quickly arrested and put into jail. Those who do not question the emergency are also in danger.

In a move to justify his dictatorial madness, Musharraf in his state of union address had compared his action to that of Abraham Lincoln. He quoted a speech by Lincoln in which Lincoln talked about violating the constitution. Any student of American history would laugh at the comparison. I need not say any thing more. The comparison only reflected what an ignorant person the dictator is. 3 journalists of the Daily Telegraph were told to leave Pakistan yesterday for using “foul and abusive language against the Pakistan leadership”. As I write this article, I am sure that I too will be charged for treason. I do not care. I’d rather be tortured to death by Musharraf and his men than bow down before him. This is a sentiment that is shared by the entire legal community barring a few spineless men and others whose bank accounts are beginning to swell.

What further disappoints us is the role played by the main stream political parties and countries like the United States who are always harping about democracy. Sitting on the fence waiting to see which way the movement initiated by the lawyers goes. Fazlur Rehman, Nawaz Sharif, the Chaudries, Altaf Hussain and the biggest criminal of all–Mrs Zardari [Benazir Bhutto]–all sitting waiting to see what advantages they can gain from supporting Musharraf. These people have no dignity so they don’t have much to lose. They have no courage to stand up to the dictator. They only want to ride the surf. Same is the case with Bush. I was stunned that Bush is only “mildly disappointed” by Musharraf’s emergency rule. Mr. Bush, you were already one of the most hated characters in Pakistan–the people now despise you.

Let us see what lies in ahead for the judiciary.