ISLAMABAD, Pakistan A month after emergency rule was imposed, the gate to deposed Supreme Court Judge Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday's house remains locked. Five officers stand sentry outside, allowing him to leave only on Fridays to pray at a mosque under police escort.
"I'm being held here as a prisoner," the 62-year-old Ramday told The Associated Press by telephone from his residence in Lahore.
Pounded by criticism at home and abroad after his Nov. 3 suspension of the constitution, President Pervez Musharraf has started to redeem himself in Western eyes by ceding control of the army, promising to lift the emergency and pledging free and fair elections.
But 11 Supreme Court judges who could have derailed his plans to prolong his eight-year rule remain under house arrest.
They have been replaced by more pliant justices who rubber-stamped Musharraf's re-election as president. Dozens more High Court judges who refused to take a new oath of office have been sacked.
Opposition parties, who say the moves toppled the one pillar of the state that has shown signs of independence, now are threatening to boycott the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections.
"The act of dismissing 50 judges in one go was the biggest blow the judiciary has ever known in Pakistan," former Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah wrote in Wednesday's Dawn newspaper. "Now the president has nothing to fear from the judiciary."
But there has been little outcry from Pakistan's Western allies.
International rights groups have taken up the cause of the judiciary, and the Commonwealth of Britain and its former colonies has suspended Pakistan, expressing concern over the independence of the judiciary. But it made no explicit demands beyond the conduct of free and credible elections.
U.S. officials have repeatedly sidestepped questions about whether the judges should be reinstated, and President Bush last week described Musharraf, a key ally in the war on terror, as "a person who has done a lot for Pakistan democracy."
The response from foreign governments rankles Ramday, a judge for 19 years who regards himself as a rightful member of the Supreme Court.
"I'm surprised at the governments and the administrations who claim to be leaders of the civilized world and leaders of freedom and democracy. I can't reconcile to this, that nobody uttered even a single word on judges being dismissed, and not just that, judges being held in custody.
"Can you imagine a U.S. Supreme Court judge being held in custody only because he thought he would like to decide a case in the manner his conscience dictated?"
Ramday declined to say how the court would have ruled in Musharraf's election case, but strongly hinted proceedings were not going in the president's favor. "I think they knew the weakness of their case, and they reacted, and reacted very violently," he said.
Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, denies it was about his personal ambitions. He cited the threat posed by Islamic militants, and accused the judiciary of "working at cross purposes with the executive and legislature in the fight against terrorism and extremism."
The president also claimed the court had freed more than 60 terrorists although critics say the suspects were actually released on orders of pro-Musharraf judges at a time when the chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, was suspended over misconduct allegations he was later cleared of.
Chaudhry, who emerged as a rallying point for a protest movement against military rule, had pressed the government for information on hundreds of detainees held without charge by Pakistan's spy agencies. Among those freed was Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, a Pakistani accused of using his computer skills to help al-Qaida and secretly held for three years.
Pakistani officials have said information from Khan quickly led them to a Tanzanian wanted for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa, which killed more than 200 people. He also has been linked with terror plots in the U.S. and Britain, and to the arrests of suspects in Britain.
But for many Pakistanis, Chaudhry offered new hope for transparency in government.
Others released at Chaudhry's prompting included ethnic nationalists from Baluchistan rounded up by spy agencies that long have been above scrutiny in this military-dominated country.
Chaudhry "spoke up for the underdog," said Ghazala Minallah, the daughter of a late Supreme Court justice. "These senior officials have never been used to be answerable to the people."
The detentions of thousands of lawyers, opposition activists and other liberal-minded critics during the emergency has reinforced how state machinery can be used for brutal effect and only deepened the impression that Musharraf's motive was to quell mainstream critics rather than extremists.
In a victory of sorts for Western diplomatic pressure, virtually all those rounded up under the emergency have been freed, and Musharraf has agreed to restore constitutional rule Dec. 16. But those steps also make Washington's silence on the judges more striking.
"The primary issue for the U.S. was their conviction that restoring the judges was the one thing Musharraf would never, never be willing to do, and their desire to keep Musharraf in charge of Pakistan's government," said Teresita C. Schaffer, director for South Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have demanded the immediate release of the 11 Supreme Court judges held in Islamabad and Lahore.
Chaudhry remains incommunicado, and his family, including his teenage daughter and 7-year-old son, are confined to his house with their phone lines cut.
Despite the barricades and police deployments barring access to where they stay, Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema claims the judges are free to vacate their official residences "when they wish."
Ramday said there has been some relaxation of the restrictions. After an initial 10 days when his wife, son, daughter-in-law and 2 1/2-year-old grandson were confined with him, they are now allowed outside. Ramday himself can only go out for midday prayers on Friday and receive officially approved visitors.
While he pours scorn on government denials that he is under house arrest, he bites his lip on the topic of Musharraf.
"He's the architect of this injustice and this ugly, unprecedented situation, but still I won't wish him bad, because he's supposed to be the head of state so I can't wish him ill," Ramday said.