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When Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declared martial law and dismissed Pakistan’s Supreme Court and provincial high courts in November, the country’s lawyers proved willing to do battle in an arena fiercer than even the most hostile courtroom. Images of them confronting baton-wielding goons and being tear-gassed by police captivated the international community. “The photo of the lawyer in Pakistan dancing through the smoke to defend the judiciary was inspiring,” William Coston, partner-in-charge of Venable’s Washington office, told Legal Times in November. Musharraf initially blamed hostile judges and the threat of terrorism for his actions. However, because the country’s Supreme Court was scheduled to review the legality of Musharraf’s re-election to the presidency in October, it was apparent to many Pakistanis that he dissolved the justice system chiefly to avoid the possibility of an adverse ruling that might undercut his authority. Musharraf has since reopened the courts, but several of the deposed judges remain under house arrest. New judges, hand-selected by Musharraf, have confirmed his presidency. Though emergency rule has been lifted and parliamentary elections are scheduled for Jan. 8, many Pakistanis say the elections will be nothing more than a sham, rigged in favor of Musharraf loyalists. Venable’s Coston isn’t the only American lawyer inspired by his Pakistani counterparts’ courageous stand. He and hundreds of his colleagues marched Nov. 14 from the Library of Congress to the Supreme Court to show solidarity with their Pakistani colleagues. The demonstration was one of several that the American Bar Association helped organize across the United States following Musharraf’s declaration. “Pakistan’s justice problems are everybody’s justice problems,” ABA President William Neukom said 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.” Mohammad Akram Sheikh, a past president of the Supreme Court Bar of Pakistan and past chief executive of the Pakistan Bar Council, made the long trip to Washington to participate in the march and to spread a critical message: “My country is bleeding.”
Marisa McQuilken can be contacted at [email protected].

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