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The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones in Islamabad
Mr Sharif was shocked to hear his lawyers had withdrawn
 real 28k

Defence lawyer Ejaz Batalvi
The law does not place restrictions on Nawaz Sharif speaking
 real 28k

Monday, 28 February, 2000, 10:42 GMT
Sharif defence withdraw in gag protest

sharif
Nawaz Sharif: Faces death sentence if guilty


The entire legal team representing the ousted prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, has withdrawn from his trial in protest, saying he is being denied a fair hearing.

Pakistan in crisis
Four junior lawyers pulled out of the case on Monday because the judge has imposed severe restrictions on what can be reported when Mr Sharif is due to begin giving evidence later this week.

The team's two most senior lawyers announced on Sunday that they were withdrawing from the case.

Junior lawyer Iqbal Raad said on Monday that he and three colleagues were withdrawing "because we are helpless to defend our clients in such a situation".

"How can we defend our clients when their right of defence is snatched away?" he asked.

Three lawyers representing the other accused remain on the defence team.

One of Mr Sharif's lawyers said they had acted on their own initiative and hadn't sought his permission; Mr Sharif was shocked by the news and unsure what to do next.

It is not clear if Mr Sharif will hire new laywers, or whether the government will get new lawyers to represent him.

The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones says that throughout the trial, the military authorities have tried to prevent the media getting access to Mr Sharif, putting up an awning at the entrance to prevent television cameras getting close to him as he entered the building.

Reporting restrictions

The move follows Judge Rehmat Hussain Jafri's ruling last week that he would decide what could be reported in the press of Mr Sharif's testimony because of prosecution fears that it might reveal state secrets.

The lawyers say they are not legally allowed to appeal against the judge's reporting restrictions, so their only form of protest is to boycott the trial.


To say the least, this is not justice
Sharif lawyer Ajaz Batalvi
Senior lawyers Ajaz Batalvi and Khwaja Sultan said in a statement on Sunday: "We cannot contest the case when such measures are taken by the court hearing a historic case."

Serious charges

Mr Sharif is being tried in a Karachi anti-terrorism court over an alleged plot to stop a plane landing which was carrying Pakistan's then army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, on 12 October last year.

Mr Sharif, his brother Shahbaz and five other officials have been charged with hijacking, abduction, attempted murder and terrorism.

All the accused have pleaded not guilty but face the death penalty if convicted.

Mr Batalvi said the judge had stepped beyond the law in his decision.

court Security has been tight outside the court
"I say it with great respect that law has not given him any such authority nor has law fixed any parameters by which the statement of the accused can be scissored by the judge," he said.

"To say the least, this is not justice."

The advocate general of Sindh province, Raja Qureshi, said the move by the defence lawyers was politically motivated.

"It is aimed at giving an impression to the world community that the court is biased and that they are not being given a fair chance," he said.

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See also:
24 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Court to censor Sharif
16 Feb 00 |  South Asia
More testimony against Sharif
09 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Sharif 'diverted aircraft'
02 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Pilot describes coup flight fears
27 Jan 00 |  South Asia
Sharif stops plane 'before coup'
30 Nov 99 |  South Asia
Analysis: Justice under scrutiny
13 Oct 99 |  South Asia
Profile: Nawaz Sharif

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