ISLAMABAD - In an unprecedented decision a Special Court yesterday handed capital punishment to former president-general Pervez Musharraf in a high treason case for imposing a state of emergency in 2007.

“We have found guilty of him under Article 6 of the Constitution and therefore awarded death sentence,” read the short version of the 2-1 split decision of the three-judge court.

The judgement could be appealed against in the Supreme Court and if the top court upholds the special court’s verdict, the president possesses the constitutional authority under Article 45 to pardon a death row defendant.

The Tuesday’s Special Court decision is however first of its kind and is being seen by political observes as both controversial and too audacious - especially for a country that has been under direct military rule for almost half of its existence where army continues to wield a strong influence.

The verdict therefore received an obviously strong reaction. The Army received it “with a lot of pain and anguish” and said it stands by Musharraf, who is currently residing and under treatment in Dubai.

“An ex-Army Chief, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and President of Pakistan, who has served the country for over 40 years, fought wars for the defence of the country can surely never be a traitor,” said the top military spokesman.

The Imran Khan government, said to be on very “cordial” terms with the military establishment, also rejected the special court decision in its immediate reaction.

Attorney General of Pakistan Anwar Mansoor Khan said the case against Musharraf was “void from the beginning” and he questioned the “rush” for the judgment, which was given in absentia. In doing so, he raised questions and made observations suggesting that the verdict appeared to be politically motivated.

The case definitely has a strong political colour and history as the special court was constituted by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif to try Musharraf, who ruled the country for over a decade after toppling a previous Nawaz government in 1999.

The Tuesday’s decision was given by a bench comprising Chief Justice of the Peshawar High Court Justice Waqar Seth, Justice Nazar Akbar of the Sindh High Court and Justice Shahid Karim of the Lahore High Court.

After hearing the arguments of the defence and the newly appointed prosecution team, the court reserved its judgment and announced its short order after 45 minutes. The detailed judgment would be issued in next two days.

Musharraf has been sentenced under Article 6 of the Constitution for suspending and abrogating constitution on November 3, 2007 when he promulgated emergency and Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) in the country.

Article 6 says, “Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or hold in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance the Constitution by use of force or show force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.”

The punishment for high treason is death or lifetime imprisonment, according to the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973.

The appeal against the final judgment of the Special Court could be filed before the Supreme Court under Criminal Law Amendment (Special Court) Act, 1976. “Any party aggrieved by the final judgment of the Special Court may prefer an appeal to the Supreme Court within thirty days of the passing of the judgment,” as per Section 12(3) of the said Act.

 

 

Military’s reaction

Reacting to the conviction of former army chief in the high treason case, the military on Tuesday said the verdict has been received with “a lot of pain and anguish by rank and file of Pakistan Armed Forces”. Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) directorate, in a statement, said “An ex-Army Chief, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and President of Pakistan, who has served the country for over 40 years, fought wars for the defence of the country can surely never be a traitor.”

The statement issued on the official twitter handle of the Director General of the ISPR came after, the sources said, the top military leadership met at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi in the wake of the judgment.

Referring to the decision, the ISPR statement further said that the due legal process seems to have been ignored including constitution of special court, denial of fundamental right of self-defence, undertaking individual specific proceedings and concluding the case in haste.

“Armed Forces of Pakistan expect that justice will be dispensed in line with Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” the statement concluded.

The ISPR said the Armed Forces stand with General Pervez Musharraf against the unjust and hasty decision.

Earlier in the day, a special court in Islamabad found Musharraf guilty of high treason for abrogating and subverting the Constitution by proclamation of emergency in the country on November 2, 2007 and handed him death sentence under Article 6 of the Constitution.

It is for the first time in the country’s history that a former army chief and ruler of the country has been sentenced to death.

The military over the course of the trial, however, remained silent on the case’s developments. Musharraf who has been in Dubai since 2016 was sentenced in absentia.

 

 

The case history

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government had lodged the complaint against ex-COAS in December 13, 2013. The charges of high treasons against him were framed on March 30, 2014, and the case has been pending before the Special Court since 2016.

The verdict announced by the special court on Tuesday was the one it had reserved on November 19 and was to announce it on November 28. But the Islamabad High Court, on application of Musharraf, barred the Special Court from announcing it only a day before the scheduled announcement.

During the proceedings the prosecution team, headed by advocate Ali Zia Bajwa, requested the court to amend the indictment against former army chief. He said the federal government also wanted to frame charges against former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Abdul Hamid Dogar, ex-Chief Justice of Pakistan and former law minister Zahid Hamid. The aiders and abettors should also be tried, he said, and contended that it was imperative for all accused to be tried simultaneously.

Justice Waqar said that the Supreme Court had already decided regarding the matter and they had given two weeks to the government to file a new charge sheet. Justice Karim remarked whether the government was using delaying tactics in the case against Musharraf. He said the government should file a new complaint if it wanted to add additional names in the high treason trial.

The PHC judge told the prosecutor to argue the case. The prosecutor general requested more time to submit the formal charge-sheet. At this, Justice Waqar said, “If you cannot present arguments then leave the rostrum.” The judge said that they are only bound by the judgments of the apex court and not of the High Courts.

Raza Bashir, who was appointed by Special Court to represent Musharraf also sought 15 to 20 days for recording the statement of ex-COAS under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPc). “Musharraf deserves a right to fair trial,” he said.

Justice Nazar stated that they have provided six opportunities to the former army chief to record a statement, but he failed to appear, adding the Special Court had allowed Musharraf to appear before the bench at his convenience as well.

“Musharraf deserves a right to defend himself,” reiterated Bashir. “The prosecution team and his counsel are both already defending him before the bench,” observed Justice Nazar.