Pakistan's Supreme Court has rejected a government request to begin impeachment proceedings against a judge who has been critical of the country's powerful military.
The June 19 ruling is seen as a significant rebuke to the military's influence over civilian institutions and is being hailed as a milestone for democracy in the South Asian country.
A 10-judge bench quashed the government's request against fellow justice Qazi Faez Isa, who is on track to become the chief justice of Pakistan by 2023.
"It is a great day for Pakistan’s struggle for rule of law and democracy,” said Hamid Khan, one of the lawyers for the judge.
Bar associations, rights activists, and opposition political parties welcomed the decision, saying it would strengthen the judicial system.
The government had asked the Supreme Judicial Council, a body for the impeachment of judges, to remove Isa, alleging his wife's properties in London might have been bought with illicit money.
The judge's wife, a daughter of a billionaire landlord, testified before the bench that she had bought properties with the money she got from her father.
Critics said the government was trying to remove Isa because of a previous ruling critical of the military. Pakistan's generals hold considerable sway over the country but have had hostile relations with judges.
In 2007, then military ruler Pervez Musharraf purged the top judiciary to avert legal challenges to his rule. More recently, a judge was removed in 2018 after he had accused the agents of a spy agency of trying to manipulate the judiciary.
Isa came into the limelight when he criticized the military for allegedly supporting violent protests by a radical Islamists group, which is in favor of the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.
In a ruling last year Isa observed that the military used the pro-blasphemy group to stage protests in 2017 to weaken the government of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif, a three-time ex-premier who was ultimately removed by the Supreme Court in 2017 due to similar accusations of corrupt property transactions, remains one of Pakistan's most popular pro-democracy leaders.
Military generals have ruled Pakistan for almost half of its existence. There were allegations the military manipulated national elections in 2018 that brought Prime Minister Imran Khan to power, who is seen as a pro-army leader