Justice Qazi Faez Isa has said that recent global events have dampened “the enthusiasm of the proponents of autocratic rule”.

“We are reminded that it is so important to have checks and balances and uphold human rights of everyone; if we do not do so our political order may crumble after an onslaught too,” he said while paying tribute to rights activist Asma Jahangir in a lecture held at London’s SOAS University on “Pakistani judiciary and its role in upholding rights and processes”.

“We must acknowledge great women like Asma Jahangir. She was a great trouble-maker, judges were terrified of her — and I say that in appreciation,” Justice Isa told a spirited crowd of students, lawyers, analysts and journalists.

“A bright future can only be secured when systems of oppression are dismantled. When gender violence, misogyny, and abuse are punished in accordance with the law. Asma Jahangir set an example when she demonstrated that tyranny is not insurmountable,” he said, drawing attention to Pakistan’s abysmal record on gender equality.

“The judiciary, like our electoral system, is a vehicle to secure the fundamental rights of all. The only future I would like to imagine is one in which persecution and autocracy end.”

The event was jointly organised by SOAS Pakistan Society and Bloomsbury Pakistan, a research centre in London.

Sulema Jahangir, a lawyer and board member of AGHS, recalled Justice Isa’s journey to becoming an apex court judge.

About her mother, Ms Jahangir said Asma Jahangir stood for “principles, not personalities”.

“When MQM leader Altaf Hussain was blacked out from television channels, she defended him as she felt this was a violation of his right to freedom of expression.

“Nowhere does the law of the land state that an absconder or a person we may not like or vote for does not have the right to express themselves. We now see that even thrice elected PM Mian Nawaz Sharif is not allowed to be aired on media.”

Justice Isa said he was visiting SOAS after 14 years — the last time he did so was when his daughter was pursuing her undergraduate law degree. She went on to become the first barrister from Balochistan,

“After I completed the bar, I managed to persuade my wife to marry an unemployed man,” he said, to peals of laughter from the audience.

The question-and-answer session saw a range of questions by the audience. To a question about whether the judge has faith in Pakistan’s democracy, Justice Isa said: “That is an extremely loaded question with a lot of assumptions. Do you have a better option? Did corruption go down under military dictatorships?

“It is not enough to merely make assumptions and denigrate the Constitution. The people of Pakistan have decided how to govern themselves, we must obey.

“Let us be governed by what we have chosen, let 20, 30 years pass. We lost half the country — was it because of corrupt politicians? It was because of power-hungry generals.”

To a question about judges being subservient to dictators, Justice Isa said: “I myself have pointed out instances where the judiciary’s role leaves much to be desired. The judiciary is not a monolith or a building, individuals make the judiciary.

“Yes, there are judges who left a mark which makes me proud and those who have done otherwise, it’s been a mixed bag, I agree.”


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