Tag Archives: Pakistan

Politics, not law, will determine Suu Kyi’s fate

Yettaw

At a meeting of lawyers in Hong Kong this April, Aitzaz Ahsan described how as counsel for the Chief Justice of Pakistan in the petition against his unconstitutional removal from office during 2007, neither the president nor any other senior official had even read the charges brought against the judge, which they had signed. Had they done so, they would have noticed that the charge sheet was full of blank paragraphs with the word “deleted” alongside. And anybody looking more closely should also have found that the petitioner had not even presided over an appeal in which he was accused of having struck a deal with one of the parties; yet a number of the judges trying him had.

Although the charges against the Chief Justice of Pakistan were framed in legal terms, neither their factual accuracy nor formal correctness was supposed to have mattered. Politics and military power, not laws and civilian authority, were meant to have determined the judge’s fate. Yet to his credit, as well as to that of his advocate, the Supreme Court bench and the legal community of Pakistan, the court reinstated the judge despite the wishes of a dictator.

The case now running against Burma’s democracy icon, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is of the same type. Continue reading

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Cooking lessons, guilty; coup, no problem

"I won't leave! I won't leave! I won't..." "LEAVE!"

Among all the responses to the judicial sacking of the prime minister of Thailand, Samak Sundaravej, this week, the New Mandala blog summed it up:

Hosting a TV cooking show = Guilty!

Staging a coup and tearing up a constitution = No problem!

As the blog post suggests, arguments about the technicalities of whether or not Samak was employed to be a television chef during his time in office, thus violating the 2007 constitution, miss the point. Although that may have been the matter upon which the court was asked to decide, this is not what the rest of us should dwell upon.

Let it not be forgotten that in September 2006 when the generals took power in Thailand, the upper courts did as they have always done at these times: nothing. The junta quietly chucked out the constitution and its court while farcically purporting to uphold judicial independence.

In May the following year, the coup was tacitly endorsed in a verdict of the court’s successor, a military-appointed tribunal, on the simpleminded premise that as every other military takeover was legitimized through the courts, then why not this one too.

It did not have to be that way. Continue reading

The price of being a judge in Rangoon

The June edition of the New Era Journal, a Burmese-language monthly published in Bangkok, carried a letter from an unnamed senior lawyer practicing in South Dagon, greater Rangoon.

According to the author, to be selected for the test to become an apprentice judge these days a lawyer needs to pay the selecting panel 3 million kyat – upwards of US$2,500. The writer lamented that although senior judges know about this they turn a blind eye.

The claim is interesting but not remarkable. In Burma, where people have to put up extra cash for everything from a mobile phone permit to a hospital bed, or even a mat on the floor, why not also for a court verdict? After all, the judges have paid to get their posts, and surely expect something in return.

When an advocate practicing in Rangoon was asked a while ago roughly how much it costs to win an ordinary criminal case he laughed and replied with his own questions, as to which type of case, involving who as the defendant and victim, and in which township or district it would be heard. His intricate knowledge of brokering now rivals his knowledge of the law itself.

That Burma’s courts are places where services are provided to the person with the highest offer is also unsurprising when they are compared to those in the country’s neighbors. From Bangladesh to Indonesia, judges cut deals and entertain proposals that have nothing to do with their job descriptions. Continue reading

Milking the cow dry

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If you are among those fretting about the global financial slump that has taken up so much news time in recent days, spare a thought for the people in Burma. On Aug. 15 the military regime there, which holds a monopoly on the sale of vehicle and generator fuels, multiplied prices without prior announcement. The cost of diesel was doubled. Ordinary petroleum was raised by two-thirds. Compressed natural gas was increased five-fold.

A lot of buses just didn’t run that day. Where they did, fares were immediately increased in line with the new tariffs. Millions of folk who ordinarily venture out with just enough money to arrive at work or school and perhaps get back again were left with a stark alternative: go home or walk. Two young men who took photographs of crowds waiting on the curbs in Rangoon were reportedly detained until that night. In a country without unions, employees in an industrial area demanded more wages.

Four days afterward, around 500 people walked together across Rangoon to urge that the price rise be revoked. One woman tearfully told an outside radio station that she was with them because she was sick and tired, but also determined. Security police took photographs. Onlookers applauded.

On Aug. 21, hundreds again marched, and were this time met by government-organized gangs armed with sticks and slingshots. That night, at least a dozen were arrested at their houses. But that did not deter others: the next day hundreds more, mostly women, took to the streets. At time of writing they too were blocked by thugs acting for police and soldiers.

The price increases come on top of an annual inflation rate of about 40 percent, and at a time that people in many parts of the country have been struggling with floods. Small civic groups have been set up in urban centers to alleviate the needs of the hungry. In rural areas things are far worse; according to one news report (and here), a man in Sagaing Division died in police custody at the start of the month after stealing some instant noodles and a soft drink. Sporadic protests against runaway commodity prices earlier in the year had already been met with arrests and inquiries.

When asked about the unexpected hike, economists were at a loss. Some put it down to sheer incompetence. Most pointed out that it will obviously affect other basic commodities; and jumps in rice, oil and salt prices have already been confirmed. An analyst in Bangkok said the move was in the opposite direction to the rest of the world, and didn’t make sense given that Burma exports natural gas.

Economists cannot and will not be able to explain adequately what happened last Wednesday because their science is rational. It attributes a type of reasoning to the making of choices that is largely absent from policymaking in Burma.

Continue reading

Pakistan’s judiciary sets an example for Thailand

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Dramatic events in both Pakistan and Thailand during the past year have brought their respective judiciaries to the centre of national politics. Judges and lawyers in Pakistan have played a heroic role in challenging the authority of the army, while those in Thailand have done nothing to address the country’s military leadership and its objectives.

On May 29, Pakistan’s top judge lodged an unprecedented complaint about his attempted dismissal, before his own court. In the historic affidavit, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry described how on March 9 he was called to meet General Pervez Musharraf and in the presence of other army officers and officials, the general-cum-president asked him to resign over some unsubstantiated allegations. When he refused, he was detained for five hours while another judge was appointed in his stead. As he attempted to go back to court, his car was stopped and he was forced to return to his residence where he found police and other authorities cutting off his telephone, television, and Internet connections. His official vehicles were also trucked off.

In subsequent days Chief Justice Chaudhry found that his chambers had been entered and files removed, his office and house staff detained and questioned, his colleagues and peers prevented from meeting him, and his home apparently bugged. However, he refused to succumb and was able to mount a defense against his dismissal. However, he was not alone as most of the country’s senior judges and thousands of lawyers came to his support. They not only protested against the treatment meted to him but also demanded his reappointment (see photo above). His petition against the president has been accepted, and a full court case is now set to ensue, where many other details of the military’s attempts to dominate the judiciary could be revealed.

Continue reading