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Editorial: Judiciary Under Threat

Without an impartial probe into all letters—the one sent by the IHC judges and those received by over a dozen judges—there can be little expectation of judicial independence

by Editorial

File photo. Farooq Naeem—AFP

Since last week, over a dozen judges of three courts—the Islamabad High Court (IHC), Supreme Court, and Lahore High Court (LHC)—have received threatening letters containing a white powder that investigations have determined contains traces of arsenic. The “anonymous” letters, claiming to be from the mysterious Tehreek-e-Namoos-e-Pakistan organization, have no return address and all appear to have been sent from the same post office in Rawalpindi. While the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD)’s probe is ongoing, the letters have raised concerns over attempts to threaten or coerce judges, especially as they appeared after six judges of the IHC alleged in a letter to the Supreme Judicial Council that intelligence agencies were “interfering” in judicial affairs.

The threatening letters’ arrival also coincided with the Supreme Court taking suo motu notice of the IHC judges’ letter, with Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa making clear in the first hearing that the court would not tolerate any meddling in judicial independence. The key question, which remains unanswered, is who sent the letters and what their ultimate aim was, as experts maintain the traces of arsenic contained in them are insufficient to prove any threat to life and appear to be aimed more at making the judges fearful of their safety.

Even prior to the crisis triggered by the IHC judges’ letter—which has taken on a political dimension thanks to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) seeking to use it bolster its narrative—Pakistanis had taken to questioning the personal leanings of judges, especially those in the superior judiciary. Criticism of “judicial activism” had become the norm, especially under the tenures of former CJPs Saqib Nisar and Umar Ata Bandial, with the latter accused of repeatedly violating the best practices of judicial conduct. As CJP, Bandial often sidelined senior puisne judge Qazi Faez Isa, and is even named in the IHC judges’ letter as failing to act on their concerns last year.

Bandial also came under criticism from politicians for his blatant support of PTI founder Imran Khan. With a visible shift in the working of the court after Bandial’s retirement, it was hoped the court would return to operating independently, without any favor. The IHC judges’ letter has dashed such hopes. An impartial and conclusive probe into all the letters—the one sent by the IHC judges and the threatening letters received by them and other judges—is now necessary to ensure judicial independence and enforce the rule of law.

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