A senior judge in Pakistan’s top court is facing possible legal action over alleged misconduct months after delivering a landmark ruling that criticized the role of the country’s powerful military in an anti-government protest in 2017.
In a reported letter to the president, Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa questioned federal authorities over a court reference, or legal complaint, that could potentially lead to his removal from office.
The complaint reportedly requests that the Supreme Judicial Council, comprising five of the most senior Supreme Court and High Court judges, to try several senior judges for alleged undeclared foreign assets.
Isa particularly raises the question of why the reference was selectively leaked to the media.
“Selective leaks amount to character assassination, jeopardizing my right to due process and fair trial,” he wrote in a May 28 letter addressed to Pakistani President Arif Alvi. “[It] undermines the institution of the judiciary.”
Contents of the letter were reported by Pakistan’s leading newspapers while alleged copies have been circulated online.
In a landmark ruling on February 6, Isa -- widely considered a trustworthy judge -- directed the Pakistani government, spy services, and the military’s media office to operate within their legal mandate. The ruling covered a suo moto case regarding a sit-in protest in late 2017. Islamist group Tehreek-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) had paralyzed the capital, Islamabad, and the neighboring city of Rawalpindi for weeks.
“The constitution emphatically prohibits members of the armed forces from engaging in any kind of political activity, which includes supporting a political party, faction, or individual,” the ruling said. “The government of Pakistan through the Defense Ministry and respective chiefs of the army, the navy, and the air force are directed to initiate action against the personnel under their command who are found to have violated their oath.”
The military’s role in the protest raised suspicion at the time. The protest ended with an agreement between the civilian government and TLP leaders. It was brokered by a senior officer of the Inter-Service-Intelligence (ISI), the country’s secret service.
“The perception that ISI may be involved in or interferes with matters with which an intelligence agency should not be concerned with, including politics, therefore was not put to rest,” Isa said in the verdict.
But in April the Defense Ministry and Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI), the country’s ruling party, along with several other government departments and individuals, petitioned the court to review Isa’s February 6 ruling.
The Defense Ministry’s review petition requesting the apex court to reconsider. It said that the ruling contained "adverse observations and negative declaratory remarks" about the military, which it argued could affect the “morale” of troops.
On April 12, a PTI petition requested that the Supreme Court overturn the ruling because Isa was “biased.”
Pakistani opposition politicians and lawyers have vehemently opposed the government’s reported complaint against Isa.
Additional Attorney General Zahid Ebrahim resigned from his post on May 29.
In a widely circulated later, he wrote that senior officials had confirmed the government filed the petition reported in the press. He argued that the complaint was an attempt to tarnish Isa’s reputation and intimidate the judiciary.
“Unless resisted, it will cause irreparable damage to the institution which is the protector of our fundamental rights and the bedrock of our fledgling democracy,” he wrote in his resignation letter, addressed to the president.