The ABA stages a major rally in D.C. to protest the treatment of lawyers in Pakistan.
By Marisa McQuilken|November 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM|The original version of this story was published on Legal Times
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In the days after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of martial law and his ouster of the country’s Supreme Court, images of black-suited lawyers battling truncheon-wielding police quickly moved from being arresting to being iconic. “The photo of the lawyer in Pakistan dancing through the smoke to defend the judiciary was inspiring,” says William Coston, managing partner of Venable’s Washington office. Apparently Coston wasn’t the only American lawyer to be so inspired. Last Wednesday, he and several hundred of his colleagues also took to the D.C. streets for a public march and protest. And though none of them had to dance through any smoke and police officers present confined their activities to directing traffic, the lawyers did manage to fill the courtyard in front of the Library of Congress in a rally in support of their colleagues in Pakistan. The demonstration was one of several that the American Bar Association helped organize across the United States. “Pakistan’s justice problems are everybody’s justice problems,” said ABA President William Neukom in an interview on the morning of the rally. “As the voice of the legal profession in this country .�.�. it was the responsibility of the ABA to step up.” He said members expressed “a groundswell of outrage” following Musharraf’s suspension of Pakistan’s Supreme Court and its constitution earlier this month. Musharraf blamed hostile judges and the threat of terrorism for his actions. However, Pakistan’s Supreme Court was scheduled to review the legality of Musharraf’s re-election to the presidency in October, and many Pakistanis are convinced that the president dismantled the justice system to avoid any possibility of an adverse ruling that might undercut his authority. In defiance, lawyers there have shown up in court dressed for work, only to be arrested. Neukom delivered a speech to the lawyers at the Washington rally, telling the crowd that their efforts will show the Pakistanis “that they do not stand alone.” From the Library of Congress, the attorneys embarked on a two-block march to the U.S. Supreme Court, but not before an organizer rushed to the podium to deliver a final but crucial announcement: “We have to obey traffic lights when crossing.” Unlike their colleagues a half a world away, none of the assembled lawyers got arrested or even ticketed. Surveying the peaceful scene and docile marchers around him, one black-suited protester wryly observed that “lawyers aren’t good at this.” Nonetheless, the ABA estimates that 600 to 700 of them showed up. Kathryn Fenton, a partner with Jones Day’s D.C. office and chairwoman of the ABA’s Section of Antitrust, was holding the section’s quarterly council meeting in Washington simultaneously with the ABA march. She says she and other council members saw the coincidental timing as “a unique opportunity.” There was a consensus among the 26 members of the group to call a recess and join the rally, says Fenton. “To stand silent affects the possibility that another country may be next,” she says. Jeffrey Golden, an American who is a partner in Allen & Overy’s U.K. office and chair of the ABA’s Section of International Law, was also in attendance. He traveled from his “adopted home” of London to join the rally. He says the marches were only “the first steps” in showing solidarity with the lawyers in Pakistan. If the upheaval there does not settle down, he says, ABA members are prepared to join the protesters on the ground in Pakistan. One of last week’s participants, though, actually did the reverse. He came from Pakistan to join in the D.C. march. Mohammad Akram Sheikh is a past president of the Supreme Court Bar of Pakistan and past chief executive of the Pakistan Bar Council. He is currently a council member of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association of Southeast Asia. “My country is bleeding,” says Sheikh. “The lawyers are being tortured. Torture is an international crime.” A group from Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law made the road trip to attend. First-year student Jim Maroulis says it was important to come to the rally because “we live in a global community.” Jill Faison, a third-year student at Dickinson, says that for her, the demonstration was about basic human integrity. “It’s not lawyers for lawyers,” she says. “It’s people for people.” Marisa McQuilken can be contacted at [email protected].Photos by Diego M. Radzinschi, Legal Times Photo Editor
Lawyers march near the Supreme Court.
ABA president Bill Neukom speaks to the crowd.
Pakistani lawyer Mohammad Akram Sheikh (right) gets pinnedby Jeffrey Golden.
Lawyers march near the Supreme Court.
Lawyers march near the Supreme Court.
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