Page last updated at 12:09 GMT, Monday, 2 March 2009

Pakistan sets up 'mobile courts'

By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Islamabad

Protesters in Multan
Opposition parties fear the courts will target their activists

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari has issued a decree to establish mobile courts that can adjudicate on minor offences on the spot, officials say.

The purpose of the courts is to deliver quick justice "at the doorstep" in remote areas, they say.

Opposition parties fear the courts will be used to target their activists.

The decree comes as protests are planned by a number of opposition groups and legal circles over the next few weeks.

'Long march'

President Zardari signed the ordinance to create the mobile courts late last week.

The government wants to suppress political opponents and undermine democratic values in the name of speedy justice
Ahsan Iqbal, PML-N

"The idea is to provide speedy justice to people at their doorstep in rural areas where no judicial set-up exists," a presidential spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, told the media on Sunday.

The law authorises provincial governments to "appoint as many persons as it thinks fit" as magistrates to head these courts.

It empowers permanent district judges to define from time to time the local areas within which such courts would operate. The courts would have an entire district as their jurisdiction.

Legal circles have been stressing the need for such courts in the past, but opposition groups suspect they will be used against them.

"The government wants to suppress political opponents and undermine democratic values in the name of speedy justice," a leader of the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N), Ahsan Iqbal, told a TV channel.

The new ordinance comes at a time of increased tension between the governing party and the PML-N.

Protests broke out last week when the Supreme Court upheld a ban on two top PML-N politicians, Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif, from elected office.

The PML-N blamed President Zardari for influencing the court's decision.

Lawyers too are planning protests. They are heading on a "long march" from 12-16 March in their campaign for the restoration of a former chief justice who was sacked by the former military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, in November 2007.

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