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Judges Get a Heroes' Reception

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The heroes in today's Pakistan are not the returning
former Prime Ministers--Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif--but
the Supreme Court and High Court judges who refused to
accept General Musharraf's emergency law putting the
Constitution in abeyance. When asked to take a new oath
pledging to uphold his "Provisional Constitutional Order",
they simply said no. While politicians Benazir Bhutto and
Nawaz Sharif are making deals with Musharraf to get back
into power, these judges are putting principle over power.
They may have lost their seats on the bench, but they have
won the hearts of millions of Pakistanis.

We got to see a manifestation of this by accompanying a
group of activists in Karachi to the home of one of the
Sindh High Court Judges, Sarmad Jalal Osmany. The judge
was having a dinner party for his colleagues who had also
refused to take the oath.

Arriving at the judge's home, the activists--an odd
assortment of students, small businessmen, accountants,
and journalists--ceremoniously carpeted the entrance with
rose petals. Armed with bouquets of flowers, they crammed
into the judge's living room. One by one, as the judges
arrived, the group gave them a standing ovation. In all,
thirteen judges appeared. "It was thrilling to be in their
presence," said journalist Nadira Sheralam. "We are so
used to a tarnished image of judges throughout our history
who have sold out to military regimes and corrupt
governments. Here was a group of judges who were putting
the interest of the nation above their self interest. I
couldn't believe my eyes."

The flowers, each with the name of a particular judge,
were accompanied by a letter from the students at the
prestigious LUMS management school in Lahore. A recent
graduate had flown in from Lahore to Karachi just for the
occasion. The activists wiped tears from their eyes as
they watched the young lawyer paying homage to the
sacrifice of his elders and read the moving letter that
ended with a tribute: "For your courage and resolve, for
your steadfastness, for your selflessness, we salute you.
For carrying on the struggle and showing all of Pakistan
what a principled stand really means, we congratulate you.
For giving us this glimmer of hope, this tangible
inspiration, this possibility of change, we thank you."

The activists said that in their homage to the judges,
they were representing the sentiment of the majority of
Pakistanis. "Even the flower vendor where we bought the
bouquets was moved," journalist Beena Sarwar told the
judges. When he found out who the flowers were for, he
insisted on sending a bouquet himself, 'with love to the
judges.'"

The group spent about an hour chatting with the judges,
with much laughter and good-hearted banter. It was a rare
scene, since judges normally lead very secluded lives
because of the nature of their work. They told stories
about being put under house arrest after the emergency law
was declared on November 3. And they talked with pride
about the fact that most of the judges--at both the Supreme
Court and the provincial Sindh High Court--refused to take
the oath. At the Supreme Court, only 5 of the 17 judges
went along with Musharraf's emergency measures.

With the future uncertain, the judges have no idea whether
they will ever be able to retake their positions. But the
goal of the legal community and their supporters is to
pressure the government to restore the Constitution and
reinstate the Judiciary.

"Restoring the Constitution and reinstating these judges
to the highest courts in the land is more important than
elections," said attorney Tammy Haque. "An independent
judiciary is the basis for a democratic state. Without it,
you can have all the elections you want, but you won't
have a democracy."

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and
CODEPINK: Women for Peace
.