Lawyers, of all people, should recognise basic concepts like ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and ‘every defendant has a right to legal counsel’. These concepts are the bedrock of their profession. The legal fraternity, however, it seems would prefer not to extend constitutional rights to those it disagrees with. That is the only conclusion one can draw from the decision of various bar associations across the country to ban Zahid Bukhari, counsel for tycoon Malik Riaz, as well as Aitzaz Ahsan, who represented former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, from their premises. Their thinking seems to be that Riaz, by accusing the chief justice’s son of accepting bribes from him, has ridiculed and questioned the integrity of the Supreme Court and so his lawyer must be tarred. Mr Ahsan has been treated in a similar manner, too, as his client was found guilty on charges of contempt of court.
As a contrast, consider that Eric Holder — before he became attorney general of the US — represented those accused of terrorism being held in Guantanamo Bay and that, too, pro bono. Holder was incensed that the US government was denying these men free and fair trials and so was willing to work without pay on their behalf. He considered their right to attorneys and a trial so sacrosanct that he was willing to be associated with men allegedly involved in waging war against the US. Yet, he has now risen to become the top law-enforcement official of his country.
Some would say that the legal community in Pakistan has shown a distinct lack of tolerance ever since it won its great victory and the chief justice along with other justices of the Supreme Court, who refused to accept General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s PCO, were reinstated. First, there was the deplorable way Musharraf-loyalist Sher Afghan Niazi was treated. Then, who can forget the way lawyers showered the murderer of Salmaan Taseer with rose petals and praised Mumtaz Qadri’s lawyer. In the case of Mr Ahsan and Mr Bukhari, the lawyers should follow the lead of the man they claim to protect — the chief justice. When allegations were made against his son, he immediately took suo motu notice on the matter and recused himself from the case. The lawyers need to demonstrate the same tolerance.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd, 2012.
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