Pakistani actress may be jailed over duty-free wine

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The Independent Online

A celebrated Pakistani actress turned television presenter and political campaigner faces a spell behind bars after customs seized two bottles of duty-free wine from her luggage.

In what her supporters claim is a politically motivated prosecution, police issued a warrant last night for the arrest of Atiqa Odho, 43. "What can I say?" Ms Odho told The Independent, apparently resigned to her fate. "The people have to decide now."

In one of the most bizarre instances of judicial activism, the ill-fated duty free purchase four months ago has seen Ms Odho dragged into the harsh glare of a local media that has long celebrated her as one of its most recognised faces, after the country's top judge sharply objected to her transgression after returning to Pakistan from the United Arab Emirates. Pakistan has been a dry country since the late 1970s, when alcohol was banned in a bow to rising religious opinion.

Outraged by the decision of the airport police to release her after a brief detention, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry resorted to discretionary powers. In Pakistan, the Supreme Court can take notice of perceived misconduct by acting "on its own initiative". Every Pakistani is now familiar with the Latin equivalent, suo moto, given the judge's taste for its use.

Ms Odho's friends said she dutifully attended hearings at lower courts until she was told she no longer needed to. "They told her she could just send her lawyer," one friend said. But last night's arrest warrant was issued for a failure to appear in court. The judge's critics suspect other motives are at play.

The decision to seize on the two bottles and target Ms Odho, they say, is part of a longstanding vendetta.

In recent months, the actress has thrown her celebrity behind the former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf's dogged attempts to revive his political fortunes and stage an unlikely comeback from exile.

She has appeared on television as his new party's spokeswoman. "When the chief justice sees Atiqa, what he really sees is Pervez Musharraf," said a friend of Ms Odho's. "And that's when he goes bonkers!"

Mr Musharraf twice ousted Mr Chaudhry from office, only to seem him restored, riding a popular movement for judicial independence. Now, his opponents say, Mr Chaudhry is using his clout to exact revenge. Others say he is courting conservative opinion and ignoring more notable legal challenges, such as the rash of Islamist vigilantism in recent days.

Support grows for taseer killer

Pakistan's most notorious killer is being represented in his appeal against his death sentence by a high-profile retired chief justice of the Lahore High Court.

At a hearing yesterday, Khawaja Sharif appeared to defend Mumtaz Qadri, the police bodyguard who was sentenced to death last month for murdering the former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer. Outside the court, hundreds of angry extremists called for Qadri's release, dubbing him a hero of Islam. Mr Taseer was shot 27 times after campaigning for a review of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, used to persecute minorities.

As the chief justice of Lahore High Court, Mr Sharif has been criticised for his draconian rulings, such as banning Facebook.