More than 20,000 lawyers in Pakistan have been put in detention following President Pervez Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency, two prominent Pakistani lawyers said on Tuesday.
"One in every four lawyers in Pakistan has been put away - 2,400 in Punjab alone," said Mohammad Akram Sheikh, a senior Islamabad-based lawyer who is on a tour of London and Washington to lobby against Musharraf.
"This is not a story that is getting out to the international media. In some places, entire bar associations have been put into jail," he added.
"Basically, any lawyer who is objecting to the emergency is behind bars."
His colleague, London-based barrister and Queen's Counsel Sibghatullah Kadri said Musharraf is well aware of the fact that "when these lawyers are released, they will reorganise."
"Today, lawyers are the nucleus of the entire pro-democracy movement in Pakistan. Some people have tried to divide the lawyers, but they have remained united," he said.
Kadri Monday submitted a memorandum to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group saying it was wrong in 2004 to readmit Pakistan into the Commonwealth after suspending it in 1999, when Musharraf led an army coup against an elected government.
"Many concerned Pakistanis then regarded your decision as unjustified, and in the light of recent events they have been proved correct," said the memorandum, submitted on behalf of the UK Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights and Justice in Pakistan.
"We are aware that certain Commonwealth leaders, including the then prime minister of the United Kingdom, lent their support to the general back in 2004 because they regarded him as a reliable ally in the 'war on terror'."
But now, it said, Musharraf "himself has begun to inflict terror on the citizens of his own country."
Kadri told IANS he was worried about the long-term impact of Musharraf's crackdown against lawyers.
"For the first time ordinary people had started thinking 'here is an independent judiciary in Pakistan'," he said.
But if Musharraf's handpicked group of Supreme Court judges was allowed to succeed, "people won't get justice because these judges don't know the law. They don't know that law is about the ordinary people," he added.