Update Wednesday, May 24: The strike has ended
Lawyers from Sindh’s four most powerful groups have pitted themselves against a judge after she unearthed a scam in which water from a Karachi court’s RO filter plant was being illegally sold for profit.
The judge is Sadaf Khokhar who is posted as a District and Sessions Judge at the Malir court in Karachi.
Last week, on Thursday May 11, she had a notice posted at the court’s RO filter plant, saying it was prohibited to sell its water.
The permission to open an RO plant was sought in 2021 by the Malir Bar Association given the shortage of clean drinking water for the people visiting this court.
But last week, when supervising officer and senior civil judge Khurram Amin Khan paid a surprise visit to the RO plant, he found that a man named Hajan Ali was selling packed bottles of water from it. Hajan Ali told the civil judge he had entered into a contract with the present elected body of the Malir Bar Association to sell the water. The civil judge found packing material and bottles at the plant.
The civil judge reported this back to Khokhar, who reported this finding up the chain. “[D]istilled water is being sold commercially,” Khokhar said in a May 13 letter to the Registrar of the Sindh High Court. She informed the registrar that she had restricted the commercial sale of water. “The RO plant is donated and being maintained at the [cost of] court/public exchequer (electricity etc).”
The reaction to her notice was swift. The District Bar Association called a strike the next day, Friday May 12. They held an emergency general body meeting against her “behaviour” and “forcibly putting [a] notice on our RO plant through judicial officers in order to harass and humiliate the lawyers of the Malir Bar and stop the service of drinking water.”
Lawyers from the Sindh High Court, city court, Malir court, Sindh Bar Council, Sindh High Court Bar, Karachi Bar and Malir Bar associations went on strike Friday across Sindh.
Sindh High Court Bar Association president Saleem Mangrio and general secretary Amir Waraich put in an application to discharge the benches. According to Karachi Bar Association president Amir Saleem, Khokhar had “made life difficult” for the judges and lawyers and she was not cooperating with the Malir Bar Association.
The Malir bar lawyers had said her behaviour was not according to the law and they would go on strike till Monday, May 15. After that, the matter spread to other courts with the Sindh Bar Council taking the matter by May 18 to the Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court.
The Sindh Bar Council, Sindh High Court Bar Association, Karachi Bar Association and Malir Bar Association met Chief Justice Ahmad Ali M Shaikh and told them about the judge’s “behaviour”. They said that the chief justice did not pay attention and point-blank stated that neither would the judge be transferred, nor sent on leave.
Karachi Bar’s president Amir Saleem later said that they would be on strike against the lack of cooperation from the Chief Justice and District and Sessions judge Sadaf Khokhar on May 20.
Legal work has thus been at a standstill with people and lawyers not even being allowed to enter courts. Court reporters were reluctant to file stories on these events beyond the strike for fear of being beaten. At the most stories were filed saying that the lawyers were on strike because her “rawaiya” had been unacceptable to them. No one specified exactly what aspect of her behaviour had sparked this outrage.
Lawyers were not willing to speak on the record for fear of invoking the ire of the bar associations. Abuse was verbally hurled at District & Sessions Judge Sadaf Khokhar and her character was assailed.
As of Monday, May 22, the strike continued. The lawyers want her transferred out.
Shamil Ahmed adds: On Monday, the Sindh Bar Council issued a statement announcing strike across the province on Tuesday, May 23. Lawyers would boycott court proceedings across the province, it said.
The statement said that lawyers would also stage a sit-in before the chamber of the Sindh High Court chief justice.
The protest would continue until the Malir sessions judge is transferred, said the statement, which also added that the behaviour of the Sindh High Court chief justice was deplorable.
Update on Wednesday: The lawyers met the SHC CJ on Wednesday in his chambers and upon his reassurance ended their sit-in.
On May 26, CJ Ahmad Ali Sheikh will visit the Malir court, according to Amir Waraich.
The Malir bar went on a 13-day strike and then the Sindh Bar Council called for all bar associations to strike, leading to a five-day boycott. They are still demanding her transfer.