Pakistan: Thousands join lawyers' 'long march'

June 14, 2008

"I am on a bus roof top for two hours. I cannot tell how many have started from Lahore for the Long March to Islamabad but everywhere there are heads and heads. It is going beyond our expectations."

Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) spokesperson Farooq Tariq made these comments in an account posted at < http://asia-pacific-A HREF=\"\"><> on June 13, about the "long march" organised by Pakistani lawyers for democracy and the resignation of President Musharraf Pervez. "Our four vehicles are decorated with red flags and they are flying like anything."

Tariq explained that the lawyers movement has caught "the imagination of hundreds of thousands. It took us two hours to travel a few kilometres inside Lahore ... There are thousands of people on both sides of the roads waving at us and happy to see the thousands of people in Long March.

"Slogans are against military dictator Musharraf, American imperialism, and against price hikes, for restoration of top judges, and for a just society. There are cheers and confidence on every face."

The march is to Islamabad, 400 kilometres way, and Tariq commented: "I think it could take whole night to arrive."

The march has been organised in order to pressure the government now headed by the party of the late Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), to restore the judges sacked by Musharraf as part of his crackdown on the pro-democracy movement last year, without any conditions.

Tariq writes: "The Long March started from Karachi on June 9 [and] arrived in Sukhar at early hours of June 10. Here they were joined by the participants of different groups from Baluchistan. They arrived at Multan ... where the deposed chief justice Iftikhar Choudary had arrived to welcome this rally."

Tariq explained that LPP activists "have joined the Long March from Karachi and on the way they are joined by other LPP activists. They will be joined by another 50 LPP activists from Lahore. At Islamabad, the LPP is setting up camp to welcome the Long March participants."

At Lahore, he reported that activists from opposition groups such as the Muslim League-Nawaz, Tehrik Insaaf, Jamaat-i-Islami, the LPP and the Awami Tehreek "are in thousands on different buses, trucks, mini buses and cars". The PPP, he said, were nowhere to be seen.

"The Long March was called after the newly elected parliament failed to restore the top judges as promised before the general elections. The PPP had promised to restore the judges within one month of coming to power but failed to do so", Tariq explained.

"They want these judges restored through a constitutional package that includes many conditions on the freedom of the judiciary. The lawyer's movement [that] started on 9 March 2007 is entering its decisive phase. The Long March has caught the imagination of many workers and peasants" who have begun to join the movement.

In response to the long march, the government has resorted to repression. In a June 10 statement, entitled "Government should not use force against lawyers' long march", the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) argued: "The government of Pakistan is taking steps to ensure that lawyer's long march is unsuccessful by setting up barriers around the parliament house and all approach roads."

"The whole of the Islamabad", the statement notes, "is under the high alert and even members of both the houses, the Senate and National assembly, are being stopped by the law enforcement agencies and body searched. Extra contingents of police ... are being deployed in an effort to thwart the popular movement of the restoration of the deposed judiciary.

"In addition to these, ministry of interior has put barbed wire on main junctions of the venue so that no body can cross the wires."

The statement points out: "The long march is in retaliation of the effective betrayal by the newly elected government that they would restore the dismissed judges into office. The promise that was made before and after the elections of February 18 has not only been left unfulfilled, but the indicators are that the current administration is not giving the issue the importance it demands.

"The government instead has introduced a Constitutional Package in which a formula is mentioned to restore the dismissed judges. However, this package was rejected by the lawyers, civil society and all political parties other than those in the government."

The AHRC argued that "the ordinary people of Pakistan are being forced to take the law into their own hands. The continuing absence of the 'presence and perception of law enforcement' in the country is leading to instances of mob justice like mass lynching and the burning alive of suspects."

"Within one month", the AHRC pointed out, "10 persons were burnt alive by mobs who believed this to be the best way to deal with perceived injustices ... This situation, if left to continue unabated could escalate into a civil war."

Pointing to the threat that the "forces of tyranny may take control of the affairs of the country if the government still resists to the popular demand for the restoration of deposed judiciary", the AHRC statement urges the Pakistani government "to take immediate action to restore the dismissed judiciary before the long march starts its sit in before the parliament".
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