A special court in Pakistan on Tuesday sentenced former military ruler Pervez Musharraf to death on charges of high treason, stemming from his decision more than a decade ago to suspend the constitution and impose a state of emergency.
The judges’ 2 to 1 decision marked the first time a court has handed down the death penalty to a former army chief or leader of Pakistan. But analysts said the penalty is unlikely to be carried out: Musharraf, who was sentenced in absentia, has been out of the country since 2016 and has been receiving medical treatment in Dubai.
The Pakistani armed forces later issued a strong statement supporting Musharraf and denouncing the legal process against him. The court’s decision “has been received with lot of pain and anguish” by the military’s rank and file, said the statement, which was issued after a meeting of top army leaders. As a former army chief and president of Pakistan who served the country for more than 40 years and fought wars in its defense, Musharraf “can surely never be a traitor,” it said.
The statement added that “due legal process seems to have been ignored” by the court. It said the military expects justice to “be dispensed in line with [Pakistan’s] Constitution.”
Musharraf, 76, ruled nuclear-armed Pakistan from 1999 to 2008 as head of a military-led government after he seized power from then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a coup. He became a key supporter of Washington in the U.S.-led war on terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The retired general lives in self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates and is reported to be seriously ill. In a video statement he recorded from a hospital bed earlier this month, Musharraf described the case against him as unfounded and baseless.
The charges arose from Musharraf’s November 2007 move to suspend the constitution and impose emergency rule, after which numerous judges were placed under house arrest or dismissed, sparking widespread protests. He resigned the following year to avoid a threat of impeachment.
A government law officer, Salman Nadeem, told reporters Tuesday that Musharraf had been found guilty of violating Article 6 of Pakistan’s constitution, which states that any person who suspends the constitution by use of force shall be guilty of high treason.
Legal experts said Musharraf could appeal the verdict to the country’s Supreme Court.
Responding to the judges’ decision, Musharraf’s lawyer, Akhtar Shah, said the case against his client was “unfair, no doubt about that.”
“We have always maintained it was a wrong case,” he told reporters. “Pervez Musharraf has developed this country, he respected the rule of law and freedom of press, and the way he served the country, no one else did.”
The state of emergency was “good for the country during those times” and was enacted only after extensive consultations, he said.
Shah added that Musharraf had wanted to return to Pakistan to record a statement but was not offered sufficient security measures to ensure his safety.
Firdous Ashiq Awan, an adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan, told Pakistan’s ARY News channel that the government would review the court’s ruling against Musharraf before announcing its position on the matter.
The case against the former leader had been pending since 2013, when a government led by his old rival, Sharif, was in power.
Musharraf was indicted in 2014, but the trial was delayed, and he left Pakistan two years later.
The Washington Post