It is for the first time that a sitting high court judge is facing a public trial — one that he himself has asked for. But Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui is no ordinary judge — if judges in Pakistan can be ordinary anymore. On the eve of the 2018 general elections, he leveled serious allegations against the army’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of meddling in both the judicial and political systems. He thundered in front of a group of lawyers in Rawalpindi that the ISI was exerting pressure on the judiciary to keep Nawaz Sharif and his daughter behind bars. Agreeing with him, some lawyers can be heard shouting in a video of the event that soon went viral on social media: ‘Shame, Shame!’
But this is not why the honourable judge is facing an open trial. He is accused of refurbishing his official residence beyond entitlement. His response? Asking for a complete list of expenses incurred on the residences of all judges serving in the superior judiciary. Perhaps by showing that he is not the only one spending money on his house, he will be able to prove that he is being victimised because he has fired a salvo at the ISI, and not for the first time. In recent years, Justice Siddiqui has criticised the army several times, particularly with regards to its dealings with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) government. It does not help that he is a close relative of Irfan Siddiqui who served as Sharif’s advisor.
Justice Siddiqui also questioned the army’s role as the mediator between the government and protesters during last year’s religious protests at Faizabad over changes in election nomination forms and implied that the ISI was providing tacit support to the agitators. This brings us to the likely reason why Justice Siddiqui wanted an open trial. He did so because he wants to argue that he is being targeted because he has spoken against a powerful state institution. He knows the system and how to work it. And, for many in the country, it would have been a convincing argument — had it not been for Justice Siddiqui’s past.
He obtained his law degree from the University of Punjab and started practicing in district courts of Rawalpindi in 1988. He was later elevated as an advocate of the high court and eventually the Supreme Court. He was an activist of the Jamaat-e-Islami and unsuccessfully contested the 2002 general elections as a National Assembly candidate of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). It is towards the end of the previous decade that Justice Siddiqui gained more prominence as a lawyer and activist. In 2007, he represented the Lal Masjid cleric and helped him obtain bail in terrorism cases following the siege of the mosque in the same year. It was also around this time that he joined the Lawyers’ Movement against Pervez Musharraf for sacking then Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Recently, he was removed from a bench hearing a petition filed by Chaudhry, seeking Imran Khan’s disqualification from parliament.
Justice Siddiqui was rewarded for his loyalty to Chaudhry in 2011 – the year he was also elected president of the Rawalpindi Bar Association – when he was made a judge of the Islamabad High Court. Blasphemy and the finality of prophethood has also been a subject very close to Justice Siddiqui’s heart. Earlier last year, when five bloggers went missing and were later accused to be blasphemers, he proposed drastic censorship measures to weed out blasphemous content from the Internet and directed that cases be registered against them. This year, he passed an order saying it must be mandatory to declare one’s faith to be allowed to join the army, judiciary or civil services. It was directed at those who, he said, may use the name of Islam to hide their real identity — namely, Ahmadis.
Justice Siddiqui’s judgments are speaking louder than his allegations — and they seem to be telling tales of someone who has been publicly discriminatory towards certain individuals and communities. That alone should be reason enough that he does not judge anyone — the powerful and the marginalised alike.
This article was originally published in the Herald's August 2018 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.