Source: New York Times KARACHI — Not so long ago, Muneer A. Malik was often photographed sitting on the roof of a Mitsubishi Pajero, fists raised, showered with rose petals and thronged by supporters as he accompanied the embattled Supreme Court chief justice on protest cavalcades that became the starkest symbol of opposition to President Pervez Musharraf’s rule.
Today, Mr. Malik, a lawyer who helped lead the movement of his colleagues, goes nowhere but the hospital and home. He is frail, his face is drawn, he walks through his house slowly and cautiously. He says he is happy to be alive.
For speaking out against President Musharraf, whom the United States has held up as its bulwark against Islamic militancy in this country, Mr. Malik spent three weeks in jail, where his kidneys failed and he ended up, he says, close to death. He said his doctors told him it was a combination of dehydration, malnutrition and the presence of unknown toxins in his body. Only recently, after more than a month spent in and out of the hospital, medical tests confirmed that he was out of danger.
He is now also free to talk. The government’s detention order against him was lifted Nov. 26, while he lay in a hospital in the capital, Islamabad.
Some of his closest lawyer friends have not been as lucky, as Mr. Musharraf has muzzled his legal critics, at least for now. Since Nov. 3, when the president declared an emergency and dismissed the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who had been the chief justice, has been prohibited from leaving his house in Islamabad; his family is locked up with him, and their street is heavily guarded.
Mr. Malik’s friend and the main leader of the lawyers movement, a veteran lawyer-politician named Aitzaz Ahsan, is under house arrest in Lahore, prohibited from speaking to outsiders, including the American and British ambassadors to Pakistan, both of whom came to meet him at home in recent weeks and were turned back.
Two other leaders of the lawyers movement, Ali Ahmed Kurd, of Quetta, and Tariq Mehmood, of Islamabad, are also under house arrest. None of these leaders can talk to one another, except covertly. A protest strike by lawyers has begun to fizzle out. Mr. Malik said young lawyers in particular had been compelled to return to work and make a living.
On Wednesday night, Mr. Malik sounded unbowed.
“Repression increases as the strength of the movement grows,” he said at his home, dressed in loose white pajamas rather than his customary lawyer’s black coat. “Finally, one or the other has to break, but history teaches us the right always prevails in the end.”
The lawyers movement began last spring with the suspension of the chief justice, Mr. Chaudhry, who had dogged Mr. Musharraf’s government on a range of issues, from human rights to the validity of elections. Mr. Chaudhry became a symbol of judicial independence, and Mr. Musharraf endured months of protests by black-coated men and women across the country. Four months later, the president backed down and reinstated Mr. Chaudhry to his post.
Then, last November, days before Mr. Chaudhry’s court was expected to rule that Mr. Musharraf was ineligible for a third term in office, the president declared a state of emergency. He accused the court of meddling in state affairs, and had Mr. Chaudhry escorted out of his office and the leaders of the lawyers movement rounded up on orders of preventive detention.
Mr. Malik said his arrest warrant described him as “likely to make inflammatory speeches.” He was plucked from a hotel in Islamabad, where he had gone to appear on a television program, and taken to a jail in Rawalpindi, where Mr. Ahsan was already in the next cell. “He was delighted to see me,” Mr. Malik recalled.
The two men had been jailed years ago for bucking the military rule of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq. Jail itself was not a frightening thing.
But as Mr. Malik says now, he did not anticipate what came after. Three days later, in the middle of the night, he said, he was taken from Rawalpindi to another jail, in Attock, where he was held in a tiny cell. When allowed out, he repeatedly walked 60 steps from one end of the yard to the other, so he could at least stretch his legs. He was allowed no books, no newspapers. A table and two chairs were placed in the middle of his cell, as if to constantly remind him that he would be interrogated. He never was.
“All I could do was lie down in that cell,” he recalled. “From one end to the other you could barely take four steps.”
He was in solitary confinement for the first two days, and on a hunger strike. Slowly, the jail filled up with other lawyers and political workers. And then, one by one, everyone was released, except him.
He could sleep only with sleeping pills, which the doctor at the jail prescribed. He was also given heavy pain killers, after complaining of problems urinating. Within days, his legs and stomach had begun to swell. He became short of breath. He became so disoriented that he was losing chronological memory. “If you asked me to recap what happened, I couldn’t,” he said. “I was all alone. All the people who had been detained were all released.”
On Nov. 23, he was transferred to an Islamabad hospital, then to Karachi, where he underwent repeated dialysis treatments. He plans to go to the United States for toxicology tests.
For now, he concedes, the lawyers movement seems to be on hold. Its leaders are prevented from talking to one another. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has transformed the political landscape. Restrictions on the Pakistani media, Mr. Malik said, have pinched the lawyers’ efforts to publicize their campaign. Since Nov. 3, Pakistan’s largest television news network, Geo News, has been off the air, and it remains unclear whether it will be allowed to resume operations in time for elections, now scheduled for Feb. 18.
“We have to change tactics,” Mr. Malik said. “It’s now or never. If we don’t succeed by February, we will not have any kind of judiciary.”
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