Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has defended his decision to sack Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry by accusing him of nepotism and harassing the bureaucracy in a 15-page letter he distributed to journalists at a breakfast meeting in London earlier this week.
Musharraf "took this unprecedented step after the media challenged his democratic credentials for sacking a chief justice and then putting him under house arrest", The News reported on Thursday.
"It was an attempt to counter what the official camp claimed was 'sheer propaganda' and false claims by (Chaudhry's) camp in the foreign press," the newspaper added.
The letter was handed over to some 30 journalists at Monday's breakfast meeting before Musharraf left for home on the conclusion of his European tour.
Chaudhry was sacked after he and the entire 19-member Supreme Court bench refused to take fresh oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) that was promulgated along with the declaration of an emergency on November 3 last year. Since then, he and the other judges have been kept under house arrest.
The major allegations levelled against Chaudhry were that he had triggered judicial activism, indulged in nepotism, held frequent interactions with the Pakistani media, "and most importantly, that he was fond of protocol and harassing the respectable civilian bureaucracy", The News said.
It quoted a source as saying that the letter contained the same allegations that were made part of the reference against Chaudhry that Musharraf sent to the Supreme Court on March 9, 2007 to justify the sacking of the chief justice. A full bench of the court threw this out on July 20 and reinstated Chaudhry.
"When the top British journalists came to meet Musharraf they were shocked to receive a long charge sheet against the (former) chief justice of Pakistan who was under detention and did not have the right to explain his side of the story or defend himself against the charges levelled in the letter," The News said.
Musharraf's press secretary Maj Gen (retired) Rashid Qureshi confirmed that copies of the judicial reference were distributed to apprise journalists of "the real situation on the judicial crisis in Pakistan".
According to Qureshi, the judicial reference was "a public document and there was no harm in distributing it among the Western journalists to inform them why the action against the judges was taken by the president".