Former Pakistani President's 2007 Emergency Rule Declared Unconstitutional

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 1, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 31 -- Pakistan's Supreme Court ruled Friday that former president Pervez Musharraf violated the constitution by declaring emergency rule in 2007, a verdict widely viewed as a rebuke to the retired general's military regime.

The ruling, which prompted jubilant chants by the crowd in the packed courtroom, raises the possibility that the federal government could bring treason charges against Musharraf and further volatility to this unstable nation. The decision also invalidated judicial appointments made by Musharraf under a provisional constitution during the six weeks of emergency rule.

"I think this is a decision that has established independence for the judiciary in Pakistan," said Hamid Khan, former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, who represented the group that filed a petition against the emergency order. "It will certainly be a boost for our democracy and will block the way for any future military adventurer."

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, an opponent of Musharraf, described the verdict in a statement as "most welcome" and "a triumph of the democratic principles, a stinging negation of dictatorship."

The verdict was delivered by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who was sacked for the second time in November 2007, along with dozens of other judges, when Musharraf declared emergency rule, suspended the constitution, shut down television stations and imprisoned opponents. At the time, Musharraf justified his actions by citing growing extremism in the country, but many saw the actions as an attempt to ensure his political survival, given that court was deliberating whether to disqualify him from proceeding with a second five-year term.

Musharraf's moves fueled a protest movement of lawyers and civil society advocates that swept the country and brought about the reinstatement of the chief justice and other judges in March.

"After these two years of the movement, there's a change in the mindset of Pakistan. They do not want any military intervention. They want matters to be moving according to the constitution," said Athar Minallah, a leader of the lawyers' movement. "This will have far-reaching consequences," he added, referring to the decision.

Chaudhry delivered the verdict Friday evening in a 45-minute speech that the assembled crowd strained to hear over the rain that hammered down on the Supreme Court building's vaulted roof. But the words "illegal" and "unconstitutional" were heard frequently enough that the result was clear, and the crowd celebrated with chants of "long live the Supreme Court!" Television news footage showed people reveling in the streets in Pakistani cities.

The court did not invalidate the decisions made by the judges Musharraf appointed, but said their jobs no longer exist. It also said that Parliament should decide which laws passed under emergency rule would stand.

Musharraf, who now lives in London, stepped down in August 2008 after nearly nine years in power, facing the threat of impeachment. The Supreme Court summoned him to discuss the case this week, but neither he nor an attorney attended.

The federal government could now prosecute Musharraf, according to lawyers at the courthouse. Nazir Ahmed, a member of Britain's House of Lords who was present for Friday's verdict, said that evidence was being gathered in London on possible breaches of international law "relating to abductions, torture and war crimes committed by the former dictator."

Minallah, the activist lawyer, said, "If the people of this country want the prosecution of Musharraf, the entire pressure will shift to the Parliament and the federal government. So that will be the first impact of this decision."

Special correspondent Shaiq Hussain contributed to this report.

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