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Fair Pakistan elections impossible without independent judiciary: HRW

[JURIST] Fair elections in Pakistan are impossible as long as the judiciary remains beholden to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [official website; JURIST news archive] and scores of lawyers, activists and government critics remain in detention, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said in a report [text] released [press release] Wednesday. The 84-page report details how the November 3 declaration of emergency has been used to cripple the judiciary and weaken the lawyers' movement through police intimidation and arbitrary detentions. HRW said:

In the name of fighting terrorism and Islamist extremism, Musharraf instead mounted what was effectively a coup against Pakistan's civil society. Targets of the crackdown included lawyers, judges, human rights activists, opposition political party members, journalists, students, and academics.

The declaration of the state of emergency itself was not, as Musharraf claimed, necessitated by new terrorism threats, but by perceived threats to his own continued rule by an energized, principled lawyers' movement calling for genuine respect for independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. Scores of government opponents including lawyers remain in prison across the country today; the leaders of the lawyers’ movement and senior judges of the Supreme Court remain under house arrest. Thousands have been released, but the fear of being re-arrested hangs over them as charges against them under the Anti-Terrorism Act remain on file. Under the restored constitution, lawyers have to contend with the possibility of being banned from their profession should they earn the government's ire. And all government opponents face the very real possibility of finding themselves in "legal" military custody and facing prosecution by military courts under the amended Army Act.
While the report found that lawyers' protests have made some headway in restoring the rule of law, many obstacles still remain in place. Ousted Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry [JURIST news archive] and other leaders of the lawyers' movement remain under house arrest, and Pakistani media still operate under heavy government restrictions. HRW expressed severe doubts that upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for January 8 could be fair without the oversight of an independent judiciary or monitoring by an uncensored media. The group criticized the United States and the UK for failing to take concrete action sanctioning Musharraf.

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