Sunday, September 30, 2007

Pakistani Police Batter Protesting Lawyers; Journalists Protest

Protesters led by lawyers in business suits were attacked by Pakistani police on Saturday, and the backlash on Sunday has been led by journalists. Think about that for a moment.

Carlotta Gall reported on Saturday's violence in the New York Times:

Lawyers Battle Police Over Election Ruling in Pakistan (mirrored here)
Riot police officers fought with batons and tear gas against lawyers protesting President Pervez Musharraf’s bid for re-election outside the Supreme Court and Election Commission on Saturday. Dozens of lawyers and some journalists were beaten and a number arrested in the clashes, witnesses said.

As the mood grew uglier, the state minister for information, Tariq Azim Khan, was badly beaten by angry journalists as he was leaving the election commission building.

The lawyers were protesting a Supreme Court ruling Friday that cleared the way for General Musharraf’s re-election as president while he is still in uniform. They tried to march on the Election Commission, which was examining nominations for the Oct. 6 presidential election on Saturday morning. It was the first time since July that the black-suited lawyers, who campaigned for months against General Musharraf’s dismissal of the chief justice in March, have come out in force on the streets here in the capital.

The lawyers led a popular movement to reinstate the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, after President General Musharraf attempted to dismiss him. This move was widely seen as an attempt to manipulate the Supreme Court into allowing him to run for re-election this year as Army chief of staff. The Court ruled against Musharraf and reinstated Chaudhry, pacifying the popular democratic forces with the expectation that the Court would rule against allowing Musharraf to run again.

But the Supreme Court made the opposite decision on Friday, and the action led by the lawyers, though swift and courageous, was no doubt anticipated by Musharraf and his advisers. As I wrote Thursday,
A former Prime Minister who returned to the country to participate in the electoral process was promptly arrested and deported. Hundreds of opposition leaders have been imprisoned. The roads leading to the capital have been closed, military police have barricaded the area around the palace in order to prevent any disruptions by the nation's lawyers, and the process of re-electing the General has begun.
In other words, this clash was entirely expected and there is certainly more to come; there was a general strike in May, and now the "election" is imminent.

Carlotta Gall continues:
As they marched the hundred yards from the Supreme Court down Constitution Avenue to the Election Commission, police officers with helmets, shields and long sticks blocked their way. Lawyers began hurling stones, and the officers retaliated, throwing the stones back and firing tear gas, and then charging and beating protesters.

Plainclothes officers hauled lawyers off to police vans, including one of the leaders of the movement, Ali Ahmad Kurd. Aitzaz Ahsan, another leading member of the lawyers’ movement, was bludgeoned by a policeman who hit him with a heavy brick in his stomach.

Despite the commotion outside on the street, the Election Commission approved General Musharraf’s nomination for the presidential election, as well as those of two of his opponents, the former Supreme Court judge, Wajihuddin Ahmed, and the Pakistan Peoples Party politician, Makhdoom Amin Fahim. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Mr. Khan, the information minister, were present as supporters of General Musharraf’s nomination.

Lawyers representing Mr. Ahmed lodged objections to General Musharraf’s candidacy, in particular that he holds the position of chief of army staff, has already served the limit of two terms, and should not be elected a second time by the same assembly. But the Election Commission did not accept the objections, and the lawyers emerged saying they would now take the matter to the courts on Monday.
There's more from Carlotta here (or here).

Sunday the journalists reacted to Saturday's attacks, as Reuters reports:

Pakistani journalists protest police "brutality" (mirrored here)
Pakistani journalists protested on Sunday against police violence against colleagues covering a protest against President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad a day earlier.

About 400 journalists and human right activists chanted anti-government slogans and condemned police "brutality" as they marched from a press club in Islamabad to the parliament building.

More than a dozen lawyers, several journalists and a cabinet minister were injured in clashes on Saturday outside the Election Commission, where Musharraf's nomination was accepted for a vote on Oct. 6, which is expected to secure him a fresh term.

Police launched a baton charge and fired tear gas to disperse black-suited lawyers and opposition activists, who have been at the vanguard of a pro-democracy movement.

"They want to snatch our freedom which is unacceptable. We'll fight, we'll fight for our independence and freedom," Mazhar Abbas, president of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), told the marchers.

Similar rallies in support of press freedom were held in other cities including Karachi, Peshawar, Multan, as well as tribal areas where the army is fighting pro-Taliban militants.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on Sunday ordered Islamabad's top administration and police officials to provide explanations to the Supreme Court on Monday to explain why force was used against lawyers and journalists.

The Supreme Court dismissed on Friday challenges to General Musharraf's bid to seek re-election while still army chief, removing a major obstacle to his securing another term.

Opposition parties say they will resign their seats before the presidential vote, even though Musharraf has vowed to quit the army, his main source of power, if he wins.
The closing paragraph from Reuters misses the point, of course.

As Carlotta Gall phrased it [with my comments in brackets]:

"He holds the position of chief of army staff [and therefore should not even be allowed to serve as President, much less run again], has already served the limit of two terms [and therefore should not be allowed to run again, general or no], and should not be elected a second time by the same assembly [there should be a general election first, then the newly elected assembly should elect a new president]."

That's the way it's supposed to work; I didn't make it up. But there are some factors in play here which weren't anticipated by the drafters of Pakistan's Constitution. Among them, Pakistan's status as an ally of the United States has changed considerably since the attacks of 9/11/2001; and Musharraf is now (in some ways) in a much more precarious position than any of his predecessors.

Paul Alexander of the AP provides some more context here:

Pakistan Cracks Down on Election Protest (mirrored here)
Despite dwindling popularity and increasingly bitter opposition, Musharraf, a close U.S. ally, seems set to win the election. The ruling coalition says it has the numbers it needs, and even the general's main challenger, retired Judge Wajihuddin Ahmed, has admitted he has little chance.

The Election Commission approved only six of the 43 candidates, including Ahmed, who was nominated by lawyers, and Makhdoom Amin Fahim, vice chairman of ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party. Fahim's party earlier said he would only run if Musharraf were disqualified.

The opposition alliance has said its lawmakers would quit Parliament on Tuesday to protest the general's candidacy, a move also aimed at depriving the election of legitimacy.

Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, has pledged to give up his powerful post as army chief if he wins the election and restore civilian rule in a country that has lurched between unstable elected governments and military regimes during its 60-year history.

But he has faced growing opposition since his failed attempt to oust Pakistan's top judge in March. He is also struggling to contain growing Islamic militancy and growing public sentiment that his alliance with Washington has fanned extremism.

Still, he has been trying to retake the initiative while clamping down on his most vociferous opponents.
I thought this part was funny:
He is also struggling to contain growing Islamic militancy and growing public sentiment that his alliance with Washington has fanned extremism.
Paul Alexander apparently cannot say
Musharraf is also struggling to contain the growing Islamic militancy his alliance with Washington has fanned.
The French press agency AFP provided more detail on the demonstration:

Pakistani police baton-charge, teargas anti-Musharraf lawyers (mirrored here)
Pakistani police used batons and teargas to disperse hundreds of lawyers protesting against President Pervez Musharraf's candidacy in next week's presidential election, officials and witnesses said.

Several lawyers were injured and around a dozen arrested during the noisy protest outside the Election Commission as Musharraf's nomination papers and those of other candidates were being scrutinised.

Around 900 lawyers rallied near the commission despite tight security and road blocks, a day after the Supreme Court ruled that Musharraf could stand in the October 6 poll while keeping his role as army chief.

Chanting "Go Musharraf, go" the lawyers tried to approach the commission building from the Supreme Court but riot police with shields and helmets blocked their way and scuffles broke out.

"Police beat up lawyers mercilessly and several of them were wounded," an AFP photographer said. At least two were seen with blood coming from head wounds.

Aitzaz Ahsan, the main lawyer for Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry during Chaudhry's battle against Musharraf's attempts to sack him earlier this year, said he was among those beaten.

"The brutality of General Musharraf is being seen worldwide. Only the blind governments of the United States and Britain cannot see it," Ahsan told AFP.

"I was targeted, the police were waiting for an opportunity. I tried to crouch down for safety but they started beating us viciously with batons," added Ahsan, who was a minister under Benazir Bhutto in the 1990s.

Plainclothes police were seen taking into custody Ali Ahmad Kurd, another senior leader of the lawyers' movement.

Police also arrested nearly two dozen opposition party activists in a raid on an apartment block for parliamentarians as they prepared to head to the Election Commission, they said.

"There is a ban on gatherings of five or more people in the capital territory and we are not going to allow anyone flout this law," a senior Islamabad police official told AFP.
Meanwhile, back at the Carlotta NYT, Carlotta Gall and Salman Masood have some more on the Supreme Court's decision:

Pakistan Court Clears Musharraf’s Path to Election Day (mirrored here)
The bench of nine judges dismissed the two cases by a vote of 6 to 3 on a technicality. The cases were “not maintainable,” said the senior presiding judge, Justice Rana Baghwandas, citing an article of the Constitution that specified cases that should be heard by the provincial high court rather than by the Supreme Court.

The terse ruling was met by an audible gasp, and then shouts of “Shame! Shame!” from lawyers, politicians and others gathered in the high-ceilinged chamber, as the judges filed out.

“It is despicable,” said Roedad Khan, a retired senior civil servant and former federal secretary, who attended all 10 days of hearings. “We reject it. They are lackeys of General Musharraf,” he said angrily.

The Supreme Court had shown a newfound independence after its chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, fended off an attempt by General Musharraf to dismiss him earlier this year.

But Chief Justice Chaudhry did not preside over the two cases decided Friday, removing himself in order to ensure the impartiality of the court, and, according to opposition lawyers, to avoid another direct confrontation with General Musharraf.
Some of the protesters on Saturday carried a fake coffin symbolizing the death of democracy in Pakistan.

The Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported on some of the other reactions to the Court's ruling:

The day of the General: Musharraf to run for president in uniform, Petitioners, lawyers’ leaders livid (mirrored here)
Reacting to the judgment, PML (N) acting president Makhdoom Javed Hashmi said the infamous doctrine of necessity, under which all military rules had been validated by the apex court, was still continuing. “We thought the judiciary has become totally independent, but this impression proved to be wrong,” he deplored.

He announced that a campaign would be launched against the regime and for complete independence of the judiciary.

MMA parliamentarian Farid Paracha said the judgment did not reflect the aspiration of the people, rather it strengthened the rule of a military dictator. He said the people of Pakistan had rejected it, adding that the MMA would file a review petition. He said that the struggle for restoration of genuine democracy in the country would be intensified.

Supreme Court Bar Association president Munir A. Malik said it was not a verdict which had been unexpected. “Though the July 20 judgment of restoring Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was a step ahead, we still have a long way to go for complete independence of the judiciary. Although the judgment is disappointing, our battle is not over,” he added.

Senior Advocate Hamid Khan said judges had abdicated their jurisdiction in deciding the matter, adding that the order was a continuation of the Tameezuddin and Dosso cases (in which the concept of the doctrine of necessity was introduced).

However, he said, the judgment would not dampen lawyers’ struggle which would continue till the end of dictatorship.

Advocate Hamid Khan said President Musharraf’s holding of two offices derogated the constitutional provision of equality before the law because he was holding the gun.
And this of course is the point that Reuters missed. (Remember Reuters?)

It is definitely not "equality before the law" if one of the candidates is holding the gun.

But that's not the point; these two points are much more important: Pakistan is America's number one Asian ally in the global war against international terrorism (and the wellspring of international terrorism -- isn't that convenient?), and American democracy has nothing to do with equality under the law. It wasn't an accident when the State Department sent Richard Boucher to Pakistan to say "thou shalt have an election".

Richard Boucher did not say "thou shalt have a free and fair election", and that was a signal. What does it mean? It means the cops can beat up the lawyers and the journalists for another week, if they can hold out that long. If they do, and if the cops get tired of beating on them, they can start shooting them.

I certainly hope it won't come to that. But there will be no free and fair election in Pakistan this time around, and that suits Pakistan's number one ally just fine.

All of which it leaves me with this entirely hypothetical question:

If there were a pro-democracy movement in the United States, would our lawyers and journalists be leading it?