Saturday, January 12, 2008

Targeting of lawyers and cover up

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
A bomb exploded in Lahore, the capital city of Punjab province, on January 10, killing more than 30 persons and injuring 70, mostly policemen, outside the Lahore High Court building where lawyers had planned a protest rally. On the directives of different Bar Associations lawyers are holding their weekly protests against the sacking of the higher judiciary through the state of emergency across the country every Thursday. Through this Thursday’s rally the lawyers were demonstrating their resolve to fight for the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. While the military regime is trying to create the impression that it has been able to dissolve the lawyer’s movement in fact, the lawyers are calling their bluff. A threatened regime is trying to do its utmost to suppress a popular movement that has risen up against it. In this incident the attack has back fired killing many policemen and exposing the regime. The regime is now trying to create a cover up.

The government was aware of the lawyers’ weekly rally and on this occasion a heavy contingent of police officers, including female officers was deployed with all the necessary riot gear and other equipment necessary to disperse the lawyers rally. Even ambulances and fire engines were deployed in the operation. The government is claiming that it was a suicide bombing. However, the lawyers claim that the bomb was planted earlier with the intention of causing death and injury to the participants of the rally.

When the bomb exploded a rally of lawyers from the District courts was about to reach the Lahore High Court building to join the lawyers from the High Court who were at that time holding their protest meeting inside the court building. The bomb blast occurred just 30 yards away from the main gate where a heavy contingent of police was deployed. The office bearers of the different bar associations said that it was the timing which had saved so many lawyers from death and injury as the participants from the District courts were more than 500 yards from the High Court building. They claim that the bomb was aimed at killing and maiming the lawyers to put a stop to their continuous protests after the sacking of the judges on November 3, through the state of emergency and against the continuous arrests of their leadership and the judges. They also claim that the government is putting the blame on a suicide attack as usual to divert attention from its crimes.

The Asian Human Rights Commission condemns the bomb attack on the Lahore High Court building and sympathises with the grieving families of the police officers who suffered the brunt of the bomb blast. One injured police head constable stated that the bomb was planted inside a white Suzuki car which had been parked near the area where the police were deployed. When they tried to push the car out of the way the bomb exploded causing heavy casualties. However the police higher ranking officers are claiming that the bomb was carried by a suicide bomber who arrived on a motorcycle.

The AHRC supports the struggle of the protesting lawyers for the rule of law, supremacy of the judiciary against the rule of emergency, and against the arbitrary actions of President Musharraf to undermine the constitutional rule. As the government appears seems to be clearly engaged in a cover up, the AHRC calls for a transparent inquiry into this case with the involvement of international experts.

As it is yet another effort by the government to scare the legal fraternity and civil society to make them desist from assembling and conducting protests against the government the international community owes an obligation to support the lawyers vigorously at this time. Lawyers throughout the world should demonstrate their solidarity with the lawyers in Pakistan by strong actions in their own countries and by communicating their anger to the Pakistan government through the local embassies and consulates of the country.

This is an incident in which many lawyers could have died. Already there are lawyers who have been seriously tortured and held under house arrest and thousands were also detained. The global legal community owes an obligation to the lawyers of Pakistan to institute an inquiry of their own into this matter. The global lawyer’s organisations and national organisations should come forward to offer protection for the lawyers of Pakistan now. We particularly call upon the International Bar Association and Law Asia to act in a demonstrative manner, letting the world know how they will fight to protect their colleagues in Pakistan. We also call upon the UN Rapporteur for the independence of judge and lawyers to exercise his mandate and to do his utmost to investigate this matter and prevent any further recurrence. It should be remembered that those who made this failed attempt are very likely to try again and next time they will also try to make sure that they will carry out their evil task more efficiently this is one of those times when the international solidarity within the legal fraternity and the human rights community will be tested.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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