Pakistani court indicts Musharraf over treason

AFP, ISLAMABAD

Tue, Apr 01, 2014 - Page 5

A court yesterday indicted former Pakistani president and former military ruler Pervez Musharraf for treason on charges relating to his 2007 imposition of emergency rule, in a historic first for a country controlled for half its history by the army. If convicted, he could face the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Tahira Safdar, one of three judges of a special court convened to hear the case, read out five charges, with the former president pleading “not guilty” to each of them. Musharraf, who has been absent from most of the tribunal’s hearings owing to security threats and ill health, then turned to address the court.

“I honor this court and prosecution, I strongly believe in law and don’t have ego problems, and I have appeared in court 16 times in this year in Karachi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi,” said the 70-year-old, who led Pakistan from 1999 to 2008.

Appearing fit and confident, he made an emotional speech highlighting the country’s achievements under his tenure.

“I am being called a traitor: I have been chief of army staff for nine years and I have served this army for 45 years. I have fought two wars and it is ‘treason’?” he said.

“I am not a traitor. For me traitors are those who loot public money and empty the treasury,” he said.

After the hearing, Pakistan chief prosecutor Akram Sheikh said Musharraf’s main defense rested in the claim that he acted on the advice of then-Pakistani prime minister Shaukat Aziz and the Cabinet when suspending the constitution.

“He has taken the defense that he did not take these steps independently,” Sheikh said.

“On this I have submitted before the court that it is now for him to prove that he has done this on the advice of the [former] prime minister and the Cabinet,” Sheikh added.

Musharraf declared a state of emergency in November 2007, shortly before Pakistan’s Supreme Court was due to rule on the legality of his re-election as president a month earlier while he was also the commander of the army.

He then arrested and sacked the top judges, including the chief justice, who challenged his decision.

Musharraf has endured a torrid time since returning to Pakistan in March last year on an ill-fated mission to run in the general election.

Almost as soon as he landed, he was barred from contesting the vote and hit with a barrage of legal cases, including on his decision to raid a radical mosque in Islamabad, the killing of a rebel leader in Balochistan and the death of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.