Publish and be damned-Anjum Niaz

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When a courtesan Harriette Wilson threatened to publish her memoirs and letters from her lover Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, the Duke churlishly told her to “Publish and be damned!” Before I juxtapose an errant judge of today with the duke of over a century ago, let me say that judges are human. They have the same urges and needs as us all: money, love, mansions, limousines, friends and undercover indiscretions…even a tangle or two compromising positions – to use a jaded cliché that conjures images best left to one’s imagination. The public has no business to cast aspersions on the character of our lordships as long as they remain honest and sincere to their profession. Anyone making a personal attack on a judge commits contempt of court and deserves being hauled up and thrown in prison. Judiciary is the third pillar of the state. It is to be revered, feared and honoured.

Hail to the chiefs! Hail to the Caesars of our courts! Hail to the Solomons of wisdom and justice!

But we do know this much: the people of Pakistan don’t love their judges. They hold them accountable for dragging this unfortunate country down the tube. The judiciary in its six-decades has mauled the constitution; sent a prime minster to the gallows; canonized martial laws; okayed corruption; kowtowed to the ruling elites; gored the poor by denying them justice; trumped brother judges in the rat race to get ahead; handcuffed merit; whiplashed human rights; protected scofflaw judges and unmoored Musharraf’s tarred PCO (Provisional Constitutional Ordinance).

Our national shame!

Should then the people of Pakistan remain silent? Should they insulate themselves and stay away from the echo chamber? Should the media look the other way when criminal allegations against a judge surface? Today George Orwell’s words ring true. He said that in times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act. The judiciary prohibits us from peeping into its affairs. Exposing its wickedness is akin to committing a revolutionary act. Remember, we are overdosed into believing that a judge can never err, leave alone commit a crime! A judge is portrayed as a paragon of excellence, a citadel of probity; a font of moral and intellectual purity. A judge sits in judgement on the rest of us. We are the lawbreakers; felons; petty thieves; crooks; murderers; enemies of the state – the list of our guilt is limitless. We stand up when the judge enters; we fold our hands and bow our heads when judgement is pronounced; we dare not disagree when sentenced.

A judge then is God’s vice-regent. He is an all-knowing, infallible and omnipotent deliverer chosen to lead the people of the land. With a golden halo encircling his white wig bouncing off light on his black gown, he adjudicates from the highest chair in the room. What happens when a dark shadow is cast over the judge’s actus reus? What happens when the judge is accused of wrongful conduct? The judiciary trembles like a wimpy leaf. Power is vacuumed out leaving its judicial foundations hollow with a vociferous public outcry levitating from all corners and rising to the heavens with calls of justice. Yes, judges are human; therefore they are fallible. And hence they must stand trial in the court of the people and when found guilty punished like an ordinary criminal.

Sadly, a judge rarely gets nabbed.

The reason for this miscarriage of justice is that reporters or newspapers trying to cross the stinking pile of garbage behind which judges barricade themselves to secure immunity are in Orwellian term declared revolutionaries by the courts. They are charged with contempt of court. Let me whisper this softly – this term’s prophylactic ingredients have lost their effect since March 9, 2007 when dictator Musharraf ramrodded the Supreme Court chief justice leaving him by the roadside. A frenzied nation unified bypassing the various codes of conduct proclamations by the judges threatening contempt of court. The judges and the judiciary became an open season for censure. Our lordships didn’t retaliate. They disappeared behind their chambers.

Today, can the courts haul the 170 million Pakistanis and put them in prison for contempt when all accuse the judiciary of not being independent? When we shout from the rooftops that there is no rule of law in Pakistan, are we not committing a mass contempt of court? When every anchor and every columnist worth his or her salt throws the Farah Dogar case in her father’s face accusing him of misusing his position, are not these scores of people committing contempt against the lord chief justice of the Supreme Court?

Should then Justice Dogar not stand and shut us up if he is innocent? Should he not step down from his pedestal until the matter is settled? Instead, in this land of the pure, the reporter, our lone warrior Ansar Abbasi suddenly receives summons to visit the lord chief justice’s residence. He’s told not to file the Farah Dogar story. But he goes ahead and files it. Soon he finds his life in danger. He’s threatened and maligned by the toadies of the court. Musharraf and Zardari’s unethical factotum former attorney general Justice (r) Malik Qayyum and the lawyer Ahmad Raza Qasuri bibulously rush to defend the chief justice’s daughter.

If truth be told, the former chairman of the FBISE is told that he must do the needful if he wants an extension. Instead he does what is even better for him – he facilitates a change in the number of marks of a female student, who also happens to be the daughter of a powerful man and this act by him allows the student to gain admission to a medical college. The former chairman was clearly clever by half because he managed to get an extension without having to part with anything more precious than a directive to the mark-checking staff.

The plan backfired as we all know. But the case is not closed despite Ms Dogar having won the first round. The tenacious Barrister Javed Iqbal Jaffery has filed a review petition seeking withdrawal of IHC (Islamabad High Court) single bench decision; decision is awaited.

Inside the parliament a parallel drama to muzzle MNA –N league Abid Sher Ali, chairman of the National Assembly’s standing committee on education was successful. Speaker National Assembly Fehmida Mirza has cleverly frozen Ali’s impolitic moves to keep the Dogar affair alive making him look like a schlemiel.

Meanwhile, investigative ace reporter Ansar Abbasi has broken another story. It’s a scoop against a judge. Abbasi has revealed the scandalous contents of a letter written by a hardcore criminal of the underworld, now dead, incriminating the judge. But shushhhh… the Lahore High Court has gagged the media from mentioning the case. Guess who has contested the order? None other than the pugnacious flinty-eyed Barrister Javed Iqbal Jaffery! He has requested the court to vacate the gag order passed by a judge against the media. Former Supreme Court judges, human rights activists, legal experts have all risen up against the incursion by the court.

Publish and be damned (with a contempt of court) is the message sent out by our slaphappy masters in law. They dare the media to stay clear of the judiciary or else face the angry courts. Unless the present government takes back the fired judges fighting for freedom of the judiciary, foreign investment will not touch our shores. Let me give you a firsthand example of a US-based multinational organization which was to set up a plant near Islamabad. The groundwork was done; plans drawn up and dollars sanctioned. Then came March 9, 2007. “We cannot sink money in a country where the chief justice is kicked out on the mere whim of the president,” said the company’s representatives. They quickly pulled back and have not been seen in Pakistan since.

President Zardari has shored up his popularity by saving Swat. He has agreed to the enforcement of Sharia law as demanded by the Taliban. Mr President, calibrate your next step by throwing in the towel and restoring Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and others. You hold the key to save Pakistan. Don’t let the people of Pakistan down by cowering behind the NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance).

The moment to morph into greatness stares you in the face. Take the leap of faith.

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting

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