Pakistani Supreme Court Justice Describes Last-Minute Attempt to Stop Emergency Order

When Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf abruptly ordered a state of emergency and suspended the Constitution on Saturday, military forces quickly surrounded the Supreme Court and detained judges, including the chief justice. In an interview with VOA's Barry Newhouse, one of the court's senior justices says several of his colleagues that evening tried in vain to strike down President Musharraf's order.

Khalilur Rehman Ramday is a justice from Lahore most well known in recent months for presiding over the case that reinstated Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikar Muhammad Chaudhry after President Musharraf tried to remove him from office.

Justice Ramday returned to his home in Lahore on Friday, but said seven of his colleagues were in Islamabad when the state of emergency was announced Saturday.

"A bench of seven judges headed by the honorable chief justice met that evening and declared this action of the president as invalid. And then they also suspended the operation of this order," he explained.

Ramday says that under Pakistan's constitution, the Supreme Court is the ruling authority on such legal matters. He says reversing the panel's decision would require the court to meet again and overturn it.

"So until that stage is reached, everything that is happening in my mind is not in conformity with the constitution," he said.

When he announced the emergency law and suspended the constitution, President Musharraf largely blamed the country's judiciary, and specifically the supreme court. He said a series of decisions during the past year have set terrorists free, demoralized law enforcement officials and undermined the government.

Mr. Musharraf also said the high court has dragged out reaching a decision in determining whether he re-election last month was legal.

Since Saturday, Supreme Court Justices who refused to sign an oath to uphold the new provisional constitution imposed by Mr. Musharraf have been under house arrest. Security forces in Islamabad have surrounded their homes and cut phone connections.

Justice Ramday has been under house arrest in Lahore. He says an army major came to his house on Saturday and told him soldiers would be posted outside and he was not to leave or receive any visitors.

"Nobody showed me any orders, nobody told me anything," he said. "I was just informed by that gentleman who came Saturday night that you have to stay inside and you cannot go out and even my children are not alloweed to go out."

Mr. Ramday says that since then he has heard little from his colleagues.

Despite the circumstances, he says he has enjoyed spending so much time with his family.

Mr. Ramday says he tells his two-year-old grandson that he is now Pakistan's youngest political prisoner.