A Pakistani court trying the country’s former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf re-summoned him on March 11 for his likely indictment in a high treason case, after rejecting his plea to transfer his trial to a military court. Musharraf ruled Pakistan from 1999 till 2008.
Musharraf escaped indictment on February 18 after the special court accepted his attorneys plea to first decide his pending applications challenging the court’s jurisdiction to hold the trial and its transfer to a military court. He appeared before the court on February 18 for the first time after December 24, 2013, when the trial began. It is the first time in Pakistan’s history that a former chief of its powerful military, which has ruled the South Asian nation for much of its history, is in the dock. He is being tried on an appeal by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sahrif for abrogating the constitution on November 3, 2007, by imposing emergency rule in the country. He could face death penalty or life imprisonment if convicted for treason.
Nawaz Sharif came to power after elections in May 2013 in the first transfer of power from one elected government to another after a full term in Pakistan’s history. Musharraf had toppled Sharif’s government on Oct 12, 1999 in a bloodless coup.
During Friday, Feb 21 hearing, the three-member court headed by Justice Faisal Arab and comprising Justice Tahira Safdar and Justice Yawar Ali, rejected Musharraf’s plea for transferring his trial to a military court under Pakistan Army Act 1952.
“The accused upon his retirement in the year 2007 no more remained subject to the Army Act in terms of sub-section 2 of Section 2 of the Pakistan Army Act, 1952 and the offenses under the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973 are exclusively triable by the Special Court established under the Criminal Law Amendment (Special Court) Act, 1976 as its Section 3 (2) ousts the jurisdiction of all other courts”, the court ruled in its judgment.
“The Criminal Miscellaneous Application of the accused seeking transfer of the complaint from this court to the court-martial under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952 is dismissed”, the court further ruled in its order and summoned him on March 11 for his indictment on high treason case.
The court will give its verdict on another plea pertaining to the issue of “biased judges” will be announced on March 4.
Musharraf’s lawyers objected to the court decision, saying they would challenge the verdict in the country’s Supreme Court. A member of Musharraf’s legal team became emotional while protesting against the decision. “You are playing the role of hired assassins,” charged Rana Izaz while addressing the judges from the rostrum. “Send me to prison,” he challenged judges. Justice Faisal Arab, however, asked Ijaz to express his sentiments in front of the media.
Musharraf has been staying at the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC), Pakistan’s premier hospital for heart and cardiovascular diseases, since January 2 where he landed after he felt pain in the chest while traveling for a court appearance. On February 18, he appeared before the court but escaped indictment due to his pending petitions.
But after rejection of his plea for transfer of the high-profile trial to the military court, he may be indicted on high treason charged under Pakistan’s Criminal Law Amendment (Special Court) Act, 1976. According to clause 2 (a) of Section 6 of the Criminal Law Amendment (Special Court) Act, 1976 as soon as the accused appear or are brought before the special court the formal charges will be read out to the accused as to whether he is guilty. If the accused pleads guilty, the special court shall record the plea, and may in its discretion convict him thereon. If the accused pleads not guilty or refuses to plead, or claim to be tried, the special court shall proceed to take all such evidences as may be produced in support of the prosecution.
Legal experts believes that now Musharraf has no other remedy but to face the high treason case with an open mind.
“On March 11, there is absolutely no further reason in law and circumstances of the case which could further delay the framing of charges against the accused,” said Muhammad Ikram Chaudhry, senior lawyer at Supreme Court. He said the judgment of the special court is an indication of supremacy of the constitution and rule of law.
Ahmed Raza Kasuri, a member of Musharraf’s legal team, told reporters that the decision to try Musharraf in a civilian court is “factually wrong”. “The facts have been twisted,” Kasuri claimed.
Faisal Chaudhry, another member of the Musharraf’s legal team said they would challenged the verdict in the supreme court after analyzing all the facts. “The judgment prima facie is against the principles adopted by the courts and violation of Article 25 of the constitution that all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal opportunities,” Faisal said.
Musharraf has accused Prime Minister Sharif, whom he ousted in a 1999 coup, of carrying out a “vendetta”. He has asked for government permission to go abroad for medical treatment, which has been denied.
Speculations were circulating in Islamabad in January that Saudi Arabia may seek Musharraf’s release during Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal’s visit to Islamabad. Faisal’s visit led to rumors that Riyadh was negotiating another deal to exile a high profile Pakistani to the Kingdom. Riyadh had successfully negotiated with General Musharraf the release and exile of Nawaz Sharif in December 2000. But Saud emphatically brushed aside all such rumors, insisting that Musharraf’s trial was Pakistan’s internal matter and would not concern the international community.
“I have come to Pakistan with a message of friendship and a message of cooperation, but not come to the country with any sort of mission, he had told a press conference.
Saudi’s public denial aside, Riyadh’s ability to pull strings in Pakistani politics is not new. The reasons are obvious. Saudis enjoy huge influence on Pakistani establishment, especially with the Sharif government. Not just that, Pakistan’s military also has traditionally close relations with Saudi Arabia. The country’s new army chief General Raheel Sahrif, unlike his predecessor General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, selected Saudi Arabia for his first international visit.
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