[JURIST] Suspended Pakistan Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry [official website; JURIST news archive] appeared Sunday to raise the stakes in his defense against President Pervez Musharraf's charges of abusing authority, telling tens of thousands of supporters at a Lahore rally that the "Era of dictatorship is over" and that "It is the responsibility of the courts to defend human rights of the people and protect the constitution." He told the crowd – which included many lawyers [Daily Times report] in the nation's leading legal center – that in standing up for the independence of the judiciary they were campaigning for "supremacy of the constitution and rule of law" and declared that "God will definitely give us success in this struggle." A provincial chief minister who supports Musharraf told a local TV station that Chaudhry's speech had changed the character of the confrontation between the two, definitively moving it out of the legal arena; it is clear, he said, "that this campaign has become political." AFP has more. Meanwhile in Sindh province, Musharraf himself sought to damp down any further challenge to his authority, saying in reference to ongoing disciplinary proceeding against Chaudhry that he wanted to give lawyers "a warning that their designs will not succeed, because they need the people on their side….I want to tell these lawyers, don't get into politics, and live peaceably, let the Supreme Judicial Council decide the reference in a constitutional way." The Hindu has more
Chaudhry was technically made "non-functional" [JURIST report] by a March 9 presidential order. No specifics were provided at the time of his suspension but documents subsequently disclosed [JURIST report] suggest he was officially removed on suspicion of misusing his influence to get his son jobs and promotions. Lawyers and opposition leaders critical of the move say, however, that the suspension was an assault on the independence of the country's judiciary and an indirect bid by Musharraf to continue his eight-year rule in an election year.