A perverse trend is sweeping through the socio-political culture of Pakistan. A trend that renders the entire system of justice nugatory, and entrusts select individuals (not institutions) to be the ‘judge, jury, and executioner’, despite constitutional and legal protections to the contrary.

Let me explain.

In an ongoing drama that has the entire nation entranced, day after day (at least four times a week), the airing of Mubashar Lucman’s ‘Kharra Sach’ singles out a few individuals, presents (allegedly) conclusive evidence of their corruption, holds them guilty in the ‘court of the people’, and forever taints their credibility, without any recourse to the due process of law.

Just to be clear: whether such individuals are in fact guilty of the alleged corruption is irrelevant for the purposes of this argument; what matters is that, without recourse to our courts of law, or the established standards of natural justice, each week the political, bureaucratic, or judicial careers of certain individuals are forever marred, in perhaps the most nefarious exercise of free media. And week after week, as if to watch the next episode of Boston Legal, throngs of people flock to their television sets to witness the latest unveiling of this ‘Kharra Sach’.

Almost the exact same exercise, this time with greater frequency and perseverance, is carried out from the ostentatious gatherings of PTI’s dharna and PAT’s political rallies. Each night, Imran Khan as well as Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, as part of an effective partisan ploy, single out political, judicial, and bureaucratic personalities, present sketchy “evidence” against them, hold them “guilty” amidst the thundering applause of supporters, and promise drastic retribution for when they come into power.

And let us not forget, in the spirit of honesty, that what Mubashar Lucman is doing today is no different than what Hamid Mir or Ansar Abbasi did some years ago; what Imran Khan and Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri have done is no different than what Shahbaz Sharif did (against Asif Zardari), in the lead up to the 2013 general elections.

And through this blatant exercise of being ‘judge, jury, and executioner’, these personalities have entrenched a culture in which individuals are deemed guilty until proven innocent.

However, inception of this abominable culture, which makes a mockery of the dispassionate system of justice, cannot be credited to either PTI or PML-N. Its roots stem neither from Mubashar Lucman, nor Ansar Abbasi. Ironically, the foundations of this reproachable paradigm of ‘conviction’, through ‘court of the people’ as opposed to ‘court of law’, was laid by none other than Bench Number 1 of the honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan, under the able stewardship of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary.

Who can forget the elaborate moral sermons, which extended far beyond the contours of law, delivered by the principal seat of the apex court? Who needs to be reminded how bureaucrats and politicians were hauled into that most sacred citadel of justice, and reprimanded (even threatened), on ‘prima facie’ allegations, much before any trial court had appraised evidence or provided an opportunity of defense? Who can claim that Malik Riaz – as vile and detestable as he might be – got a fair hearing in the Supreme Court during the Arslan Iftikhar case? Who can contest the idea that Iftikhar Chaudhary’s bench was partisan in its selection of cases, and dispensation of justice? How could a bureaucrat, or even a politician, expect an impartial trial court, after Iftikhar Chaudhary’s bench had passed (damning) prima facie observations against him, and ridiculed the individual through comments in the open court, which were transcribed as ‘breaking news’ on all major networks?

And how can all those (political parties as well as individuals) who supported the Iftikhar Chaudhary brand of justice – remnants of which still exist in our judiciary – object to Mubashar Lucman today? The only real difference between what Iftikhar Chaudhary did some years ago, and what Mubashar Lucman or Imran Khan are doing today, is the platform of their expression.

Iftikhar Chaudhary’s prima facie observations (without any conviction from the trial court) against bureaucrats and politicians resulted in enough public pressure to force the removal of such individuals from their public office. And an almost identical exercise has been carried out by Mubashar Lucman, against Rana Sanaullah and Rana Mashood. Chief Justice (retd) Chaudhary’s sermons against Asif Zardari and Yosaf Raza Gillani, which forever tainted their public reputation, are no different than Imran Khan’s allegations against the Sharif brothers. The blatant disregard with which Iftikhar Chaudhary’s bench treated public office holders, and the sensationalism that enveloped this process, has now become a permanent fixture in our political and media discourse. Through the discourses of Imran Khan, Mubashar Lucman, and the like, this ethos of naming and shaming, without recourse to the due process of law, is now the standard operating procedure for settling partisan scores.

The past five years have entailed tumultuous changes in our political as well as judicial culture. Almost as a natural consequence, this time has brought about tectonic shifts in the way our society views the political and legal discourse. This brand of justice – of holding people guilty in the court of public, before any court of law – which was inaugurated by Iftikhar Chaudhary, and is being followed by Mubashar Lucman, has done unprecedented damage to our project of justice. It has eroded confidence in the due process of law. It has ossified the belief that certain individuals are ‘guilty’, as demonstrated by Mubashar Lucman, regardless of whether our courts consider them innocent. It has consigned such individuals to forever live in the shadow of guilt, without even a single conviction to their name, and in the process circumvented the entire recourse to our judicial system.

With each passing day, it is becoming harder to trace the path from here, back to the crossroads of justice. Saner minds in the judiciary, media, and politics will have to step forth and play a decisive role to once again anchor our political culture at the shores of our Constitutional ethos. And this endeavor, to undo the legacy of Iftikhar Chaudhary, which manifests today as Mubashar Lucman, must start immediately.

 The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has  a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.

saad@post.harvard.edu

@Ch_SaadRasool