July 5th: Jillani’s efforts to eradicate Zia’s lasting effect on Pakistani minorities

Nasir Saeed

The retirement of Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani will see him remembered for his meritorious service in upholding the rule of law and dispensation of justice. These were the sentiments expressed by the new chief justice of Pakistan, Nasir ul Mulk, during a full court reference held in Islamabad in honour of his predecessor.

Before Jillani there was Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who will also be remembered for his courage to stand against the dictator and later for his stalwart boldness in shaking up Pakistani politics. There is no doubt that under his guidance the judiciary became an independent and powerful institution, having previously been weak and supporting Pakistani politicians in their wrongdoings.

Critics said he had lost sight of the law and let the power go to his head. Even those who played a major role in his restoration and in the establishment of an independent judiciary slammed him for his confrontations with the governments and politicians

Chaudhry made several daring and unpopular decisions, including sending Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani home. There are different views, as according to some people the move was necessary to give the Supreme Court a strong footing, while others believed it was the wrong decision.

However, Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, will be remembered for his more valuable work of establishing rule of law, his diligence,magnanimity, calm and composure. Further he will be remembered for his unprecedented judgments on human rights, environmental issues, rights of minorities and women.

During the full court reference he was praised for his services both as chief justice and as judge of the Supreme Court. He was recognised for his professional and legal insight and it was said that he possessed God gifted qualities of politeness.

Speaking at a farewell dinner organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association, Chief Justice Jillani stressed the need to encourage cohesion, saying that it would aid harmony, peace, tolerance and patience in society instead of breeding bitterness. This is especially needed at a time when extremism has permeated Pakistani society, making it more intolerant.

He added that in order for democracy to survive an independent judiciary was vital. Chief Justice Jillani acknowledged that Pakistan is as a crossroads as a Muslim country and needs to instill tolerance and acceptance in society, “because sleep of reasons always breeds monsters in society”.

President of the Supreme court bar association Kamran Murtaza also lauded the services of the outgoing chief justice with regard to his contribution to several papers in international conferences on domestic application of international law, alternate dispute resolution, forced marriages, religious intolerance and inter-country abduction of children.

There is no doubt that although short, chief Justice Jillani’s tenure – of less than a year – will be remembered for a long time as a significant period of progress, and in particular his work and decisions in regards of human rights and taking notice of suo motto cases.

Apart from establishing the Overseas Cell in the Human Rights Directorate of the Supreme Court to provide speedy justice, his recent order to the government to establish the “National Council for the rights of minorities”, an independent state body that will act as observatory, monitoring the religious minorities, and cases of violence and discrimination will prove to be a milestone in improving the situation of minorities.

Despite this being a long-standing demand of minorities, they had previously been ignored by the government. During the hearing of the suo motto case on Peshawar church he said offence against any religion is blasphemy. Earlier addressing a meeting of the National Judicial Policy Making Committee in Lahore, Chief Justice Jillani stressed the need for framing effective laws to protect minorities’ rights.

Although there has been a lot of rhetoric from the government and politicians about protecting minorities and their rights, nothing was ever done practically. However, after the Chief justice’s order, the interior ministry has started work on this and has asked for reserve funds from the ministry of finance.

I wish that he could stay in his post longer, but nevertheless he will always be remembered by the Pakistani minorities and I hope that his successor chief justice Nasirul Mulk continues his legacy.

As Pakistani minorities we will never forget chief justice Tassaduq Husain Jillani’s nobility. Similarly Pakistani minorities will never forget the tyranny of Zia ul Haque, who in 1977 overthrew the first democratically elected government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on the same date as this retirement –  July 5th –  and then ruled the country for 11 years. This was the date that the misery of minorities started.

The PPP has been observing this day as black day for years, and on the eve of July 5, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that the grains of all evil, including Kalashnikov culture, heroin and extremism, were planted by the dictator into the society plunging the whole country into a mess. Terrorism of today is rooted in the July 5th coup, and all those responsible for it are directly or indirectly involved in the horrible conditions our nation finds itself. The nation is still suffering for what Zia did.

Although Bhutto’s government was not ideal for Pakistani minorities, especially for Christians who saw their schools and colleges nationalized, the tyranny perpetrated by Zia because of discriminatory policies and laws is enduring.

Among several reformations and the introduction of new laws and ordinances like Hadood law, witness law, Qasis o diyat , the introduction of a separate electoral system for minorities was a heinous act of hatred against minorities, which not only made them 2nd class citizens of the country, but also ousted them from mainstream politics. Though the joint electoral system was restored by General Musharraf, the situation has never been the same.

The blasphemy law is the harshest law which not only made minorities vulnerable community, but is considered a handing sword on their head.  Though cases under this law can be registered against Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Christians consider themselves the most targeted community of this law.

Apart from registering false cases against them, their villages and towns are often set on fire and their churches are under attack. Incidents of mob justice and vigilante killings continue to rise and innocent people are not being given the chance to prove themselves innocent. Several have even been killed in prison, but unfortunately no one ever has been questioned in relation to the deaths or brought to justice, encouraging the perpetrators commit these crimes with impunity. Those who kill the innocent people are considered heroes of Islam and garlanded with flowers, hugged and kissed by religious leaders, lawyers and judges. Meanwhile Christians are constantly crying out for justice but sadly their voices are falling on the deaf ears of the government.

Even the international community has expressed its concern on several occasions but no politician in Pakistan has had the courage to ask Parliament to review the blasphemy law.

Minorities are hopeless and see no future for themselves in Pakistan – the country for which their forefathers equally struggled and supported Quaid e Azam.

Before his retirement, Chief Justice Jillani said that he regrets that “the constitutional provisions on the protection of minority rights have not been respected in Pakistan”.

He had tried to put in place the beginnings of healing minorities’ wounds, but these wounds are deep and chronic, and need time and extra care and attention from the government, something which it has historically been reluctant to give.

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