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Pakistan media ban over judge battle

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LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday warned the media about discussing the legal battle being waged by a former top judge seeking his reinstatement to the bench, saying coverage should not interfere with the process.

The court issued the ban because of what it claims is a "campaign of making the honorable judges of the Supreme Court and members of the Supreme Judicial Council controversial" in broadcast and print media.

Journalists' organizations launched a protest against the ban, with reporters saying they were merely covering the story and have done nothing illegal.

The court statement said on May 5, one of Pakistan's popular shows, the Kamran Khan Show on GEO-TV, broadcast "sensational reporting aimed at scandalizing and maligning the honorable judges of the Supreme Court."

Khan said he never intended to scandalize anything, and said he tried his best to cover both sides of the debate and offer expert opinions on his show.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf removed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry from his post on March 9, accusing Chaudhry of misusing his powers. Chaudhry subsequently was placed under house arrest, a move that outraged many Pakistanis as well as attorneys who have boycotted the courts. The judge's removal, who is challenging in the Supreme Court, also sparked widespread protests.

Pakistan's Supreme Court bar and many legal experts have said Musharraf does not have the constitutional power to remove the chief justice from the bench. So far, 14 superior and civil court judges and two deputy attorney generals have resigned over the matter.

Chaudhry was appointed to the court by Musharraf in 2005, but recently started exercising independence from the government in a number of cases involving the disappearance of terror suspects and human rights activists.

The United States has tiptoed around the matter, partly because Musharraf is a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.

Musharraf's critics accuse him of removing Chaudhry in an effort to intimidate the judiciary ahead of crucial elections and a vote in parliament to extend his rule later this year.

In its statement Wednesday, the Supreme Court said special passes will be issued for reporters and lawyers to attend Chaudhry's hearing on the presidential reference filed against him, but no one else will be allowed to enter, the court said. It added that media coverage, discussion and analysis that impedes legal procedures will be treated as contempt of court.

Chaudhry's lawyers protested the decision and said they will challenge it in the Supreme Court.


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