A religious hardliner, engaged in peace talks with the Taliban in Pakistan's northwestern Swat valley, has warned lawyers and judges to stay away from courts, saying they have no role under the new system of Islamic law in the restive region.
The warning was issued by Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi (TNSM) leader Sufi Muhammad on Monday following which only one judge attended court in the region while 16 others, including a district and sessions judge, had left the area, reports from Swat said.
Muhammad said there was no role for lawyers or judges in the Qazi or Islamic courts in Swat. He warned all judges to vacate their offices for the Qazis.
He said that only people filing cases and the accused will be eligible to appear in the new Islamic courts. Following a peace deal signed between the TNSM and the North West Frontier Province government last month, seven Qazis were appointed for courts in Swat last week.
The local administration appointed the Qazis in consultation with Muhammad, who is the father-in-law of the Pakistani Taliban commander in Swat, Maulana Fazlullah.
Swat District Bar Association President Aftab Alam said local lawyers intended to convene a meeting to discuss the prevailing situation.
He said the lawyers did not know whether the writ of the local administration or the TNSM was applicable in Swat, and this was creating problems for the legal community. Muhammad told a news conference on Monday that all verdicts given by civil courts after February 16, when Islamic law was implemented in Swat, would be "null and void". Only the Qazi courts would function now, he said.
He also warned the Qazis that they would be replaced if they failed to decide cases in accordance with Shariah or Islamic law. The verdicts of Qazi courts could only be challenged in Darul Qaza or the apex forum under Shariah. Muhammad also claimed the Shariah system in Swat did not need to be ratified by President as it "was already in place."
However, the federal government has said President Asif Ali Zardari will ratify the Shariah system only after complete peace is restored in Swat.
The Peshawar High Court has expressed concern at Muhammad's threats to judges in Swat and directed the NWFP government to ensure the safety of judges and courts.
Court Registrar Qalandar Ali Khan said the High Court and provincial government supported the Shariah system in Swat but Muhammad's warning to judges was a matter of concern.