K J M Varma, Islamabad, May 9 (PTI) Ahead of hearing on a petition by suspended Pakistan Chief Justice challenging the presidential reference against him, the Supreme Court today banned media comments and write-ups that could "interfere" with the legal process or "malign" the judges, while officials sealed the office of a senior lawyer defending the top judge.
A day after President Pervez Musharraf defended his move to refer charges against Iftikar M Chaudhry to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), the apex court issued the gag order on comments on the reference and other related petitions.
"Discussions, comments or write-ups which are likely to interfere with the legal process, ridicule, scandalise or malign the court or any of its judges or touching the merits of the case are strictly prohibited and violation in this regard shall be dealt with under the law relating to contempt of court," it said in a statement.
The reports, which will "scandalise" the said issue, will also be regarded as contempt of court, the statement said and warned that action will be taken against those who will violate the new Supreme Court "code of conduct".
In another development, authorities in Karachi today sealed the office of Munir A Malik, the President of Supreme Court Bar Association and a defence lawyer of Chaudhry, claiming that it was being run "illegally".
"Sealing of my office is part of an organised campaign against the defence lawyers," Malik told private Geo TV. He said he has been using the Karachi office for the last five years and that it was legal.
Malik was the first senior lawyer who went into the defence of Chaudhry soon after the judge was suspended and confined to his residence and later assaulted by police, sparking nationwide resentment.
He said he will challenge the sealing of his office in the court and alleged that an advertisement campaign has also been launched against defence lawyers of Chaudhry.
Meanwhile, the apex court said under the code of conduct, special security passes will be issued for media coverage by the registrar for the hearing of the presidential reference.
No person, whether a member of legal fraternity or anyone else, is allowed to raise slogans within the Supreme Court premises or at the judges' entry gate, it said.
The order came after media reports and television discussions made the judges, whom Chaudhry has accused of bias, complain that they were being vilified.
The SJC proceedings have been stayed by the Supreme Court following a petition from Chaudhry and a regular hearing of it by a full 14-judge bench would start from May 14.
The developments followed Musharraf's comment yesterday that he was convinced about validity of allegations against Chaudhry and that was why he referred them to the SJC.
"You have to leave our personal social relations. If you are incapable of doing that, you are incapable of holding office at that level because the state and the nation comes first," he had said.
"While I have nothing personal absolutely against the Chief Justice, there are many serious observations against him which were brought up to me in the reference by Prime Minister of Pakistan (Shaukat Aziz). When I examined ... Some detail I was convinced of the validity."
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