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Pakistani Judge Resigns After Public Scolding By Chief Justice

FILE: The Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar speaks with Justice Mussarat Hilali while visiting the High Court in Peshawar, Pakistan.
FILE: The Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar speaks with Justice Mussarat Hilali while visiting the High Court in Peshawar, Pakistan.

A judge in southern Pakistan has resigned from his job three days after the country’s top judge admonished him in front of television cameras.

Gul Zameer Solangi resigned on June 26 from his position as a judge overseeing civil litigation and criminal cases in Larkana, a rural district in the southern province of Sindh.

In his resignation letter, widely circulated online, Solangi claimed to have suffered “deep anguish and injury” to his “self-respect and dignity” when Chief Justice Saqib Nisar visited a courtroom where he was hearing cases on June 23.

In video footage aired on Pakistani television channels, Nisar can be seen picking up and tossing Solangi’s mobile phone and dressing him down for using the device during court hours.

Solangi, in his letter addressed to the Registrar of Sindh High Court, said he was resigning “due to humiliating behavior of Honorable Chief Justice of Pakistan His Lordship Mr. Justice Saqib Nisar during ‘ongoing court proceedings’ of my court.”

Riaz Sohail, a journalist based in Sindh’s capital, Karachi, confirmed that the resignation letter circulating on the Internet is genuine, saying Solangi had sent it to friends earlier in the week.

But an official for the Sindh High Court denied Solangi had resigned, saying the letter was faked. "It is to clarify that the news [now going] viral [sic] on different TV channels and social media regarding the resignation of Mr. Gul Zameer Solangi is based on a fake resignation letter," Pakistan’s daily Dawn quoted the unnamed official as saying. "Neither such resignation letter has been sent nor received by the office of the learned Registrar."

Sohail says he and other journalists are unable to reach the judge because he had switched off his phones.

Haider Imtiaz, a lawyer based in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, says Solangi did the right thing by resigning because the chief justice “has no supervisory or administrative authority” over a judge serving in a lower court.

“Intervening in and disrupting an ongoing judicial proceeding amounts to contempt of court,” he told RFE/RL Gandhara. “He [Solangi] could also have issued the chief justice of Pakistan a notice for contempt of court.”

Since assuming office in late 2016, Nisar has frequently used the power of suo motu or taking up cases on his own initiative. Many cases relate to his avowed mission to deliver “clean air, clean water, and pure milk” to Pakistan’s 207 million people. He has visited hospitals and complained about public services. In May, videos showing him scolding staff over conditions at a psychiatric hospital in a prison in the northwestern city of Peshawar went viral.

His activism has led critics and analysts to accuse him of judicial overreach. The former ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz political party, whose leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was dismissed by the Supreme Court last year, has been particularly vocal in criticizing Nisar. Sharif and his party accused the judiciary of interfering in the executive’s work and serving the country’s powerful military to meddle in politics.

Nisar, however, rejects such criticism. “We are being accused of accepting some cases, of being part of an anti-democracy campaign, but the judges must not come under any pressure,” he said.

Nisar says the aim of taking cases on his own and his frequent visits to hospitals and schools is to protect the poor. "We have to fight for those people who unfortunately don't have the means to get their rights," he told lawyers earlier this year.

But some in Pakistan are not convinced. In Islamabad, lawyer Imtiaz says that even while Nisar might have good intentions, his actions are not helping the justice system. Pakistani courts have yet to deal with a backlog of more than 3 million cases because courts typically take years or decades to resolve cases.

“There is a need for sustained, long-term reforms rather than media stunts which have no real value except for providing some cheap publicity,” he said.