During the annual Asma Jehangir lecture held under the auspices of Bloomsbury Pakistan and SOAS Pakistan Society in London, Justice Qazi Faez Isa took centre stage. The event was held at the buzzing SOAS campus and brought various sections of Pakistani diaspora under the same roof, for the first time after Covid-19.
Justice Qazi Faez Isa delivered his remarks, which was followed by a Q & A session moderated by Professor Martin Lau, who teaches South Asian Law at SOAS university.
Justice Isa began his speech by unpacking the fundamentals of Pakistan’s constitution and the system of democracy underpinned by it. He referred to fragmented politics of Pakistan which caused governmental upheavals.
During the course of this troubled political history, he talked about Asma Jehangir’s initial role in fighting to free her father from unjustified imprisonment. As a senior judge of the Supreme Court, he made a bold statement by admitting the historic mistakes made by the Supreme Court in using the ‘doctrine of necessity’ to justify military coups by General (R) Musharraf and the late General Zia Ul Haq. The judge then proceeded to talk about the need for judicial reform, impediments to justice and the importance of equal rights for all citizens. His concluding remarks focussed on the significance of the International Women’s Day. He pronounced Islam as the guarantor of equal rights for women and referred to the pivotal role of Lady Hajra (A.S) in Islam.
The most interesting aspect of the lecture emerged in the Q & A session with the audience. In response to a question about the need for alternative model of governance on the back of corrupt civilian governments, Justice Isa said that the constitution enshrined democracy as a system of governance and that must be upheld. He went on to add that the country was split into two parts thanks to hungry and corrupt Generals, not democratic governments.
Journalist Tamur Iqbal then queried if Justice Isa would become the Chief Justice of Pakistan. The Judge responded he would have an answer to that question if he knew he’d be alive for the next hour. Geo News reporter Murtaza Ali Shah referred to Serena Isa’s recent interview and asked if he would clarify as to who had conspired to assassinate him. The crowd burst into laughter. The Judge deferred the answer to journalists claiming it was ‘the journalists job to find out’ and not for him to say.
Further questions revolved around the need for judicial reform, for which the judge placed the burden on legislators. While responding to criticism of his findings in the memogate case, Justice Isa argued that they were in line with facts and believed the government should have further investigated the matter. He also voiced his views on blasphemy law by stating that all citizens were equal under the constitution of Pakistan and that there must be no exceptions to this.
The introductory speech for the event was given by Sulema Jehangir, daughter of Asma Jehangir and lawyer at Dawson Cornwall. The concluding remarks were given by Professor Martin Lau who lauded the efforts of the students at SOAS Pakistan Society, in particular Maheen Nadeem and her team. He also thanked Bloomsbury Pakistan (research and resource centre on Pakistan based in London) Among the audience were notable intellectuals, journalists and business personnel including Ayesha Siddiqa, Nadir Cheema, Amber Darr, Shahrukh Wani, Mohammad Taqi, Nilanjan Sarkar, Murtaza Ali Shah, Ibrahim Tariq Shafi and others. The event was attended by a large number of students as well.