Pakistan muffles media as supporters hail judge
TAXILA, Pakistan, Saturday (Reuters) - Hundreds of supporters turned out to hail Pakistan's suspended chief justice as he travelled to a northwestern town today to muster support for his legal battle against President Pervez Musharraf's attempt to sack him.
Chants of “Go Musharraf Go” that have become a signature of the three-month-old judicial crisis, were raised as Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry passed through towns and villages on his way to Abbottabad, to address lawyers in the garrison town some 60 km (38 miles) north east of Islamabad.
“The constitution gives the people of Pakistan the right to rule the country. We will no longer allow any army general to rule the country,” Ali Ahmed Kurd, a lawyer on Chaudhry's legal team, told opposition party workers in Taxila, a town on the way. Lawyers and the opposition see the March 9 suspension of Chaudhry as an attack on the independence of judiciary and their protest has turned into a broad campaign for the restoration of full democracy in the country.
Chaudhry has denied charges of misconduct levelled by General Musharraf, who came to power in a bloodless coup almost eight years ago.
Analysts suspect Musharraf's motive for seeking to oust the judge stems from fears of an adverse ruling should the opposition raise constitutional challenges against the president's plans to seek a second five-year term.
There were no live broadcasts of Chaudhry's journey to Abbottabad, as the authorities have clamped down, partly out nervousness that people were becoming bolder in voicing criticism of the powerful military. “We cannot do it after authorities conveyed to us that we need prior permission for any live coverage of an event,” said Syed Talat Hussain, a news director at the private Aaj television.
Earlier, television channels had followed Chaudhry on his travels to address the legal community in various cities, and broadcast live pictures of rousing receptions given to the judge.
There is a standing regulation banning the gathering of more than five people, without prior permission in Islamabad, though it has yet to be enforced by the city authorities.
Officials said there have been no cases registered against people who have organised rallies in the capital in support of the chief justice.
Musharraf has accused lawyers and opposition parties of politicising a judicial matter.
The controversy has already led to the most serious political violence in Pakistan for decades.