Pakistan police convicted in Chief Justice case

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Islamabad, Nov 1: Pakistan's Supreme Court sentenced the capital's police chief and four other officers to jail time today for manhandling its top judge after he was suspended by President Pervez Musharraf earlier this year.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was reinstated on July 20 when the court quashed misconduct charges against him that had triggered a nationwide movement by lawyers and opposition parties to defend the judiciary's independence and launch pro-democracy protests.

After his suspension, Chaudhry was put under house arrest and officials shoved him days later when he refused to use an official vehicle and instead tried to walk up to the Supreme Court building to attend a hearing.

Television footage at the time showed officials physically stopping Chaudhry and trying to force him into an official car.

''They (officials) have not only ridiculed the dignity and honour of superior judiciary but also acted recklessly,'' Justice Rana Bhagwandas, head of a three-member bench hearing the case, said announcing the punishment.

''It is for this reason that despite the bonafide repentence and remorse expressed by them, it is found necessary to convict them and award punishment.'' The judge awarded prison terms ranging from 15 to 30 days to to the police officers, four of them senior. The court also symbolically punished two top officials from the federal administration in Islamabad, imprisoning them during today's sitting.

However, on an appeal by a defence lawyer, the court suspended the sentences for 15 days pending appeal.

Chief Justice Chaudhry has emerged as a symbol of resistance to Musharraf after refusing to quit in the face of pressure from the president, whose own popularity began plummeting after his botched attempt to to sack the top judge on March 9.

The court has since been regarded as hostile to Musharraf, who swept an electoral college vote in an Oct 6 election but awaits a Supreme Court ruling on challenges to whether his re-election while still army chief was legal.


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