Islamabad: A Pakistani court on Monday indicted former military ruler Pervez Musharraf for treason, a landmark move in a case seen as a test of civilian authority in a country long dominated by the military.
Tahira Safdar, one of three judges hearing the case in a special court, read out five charges relating to Musharraf’s 2007 imposition of emergency rule, with the ex-president pleading “not guilty” to each of them. The indictment makes Musharraf the first army chief to be tried for sedition in a country ruled by the military for more than half of its 67-year history.
Musharraf, who had earlier arrived at the court in a convoy of SUVs with over 2,000 security personnel deployed along his route, then turned to address the judges.
Musharraf stood ramrod straight and replied “Not guilty” to each charge.
“I would like to ask where is the justice for me in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan ... I have only given to this country and not taken anything,” Musharraf said.
“I honour 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,” the 70-year-old, who ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008, said.
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’?”
“I am not a traitor. For me traitors are those who loot public money and empty the treasury,” he added.
Musharraf’s defence team requested the court adjourn for eight weeks to allow them to prepare, and repeated a call for the retired general to be allowed to visit his ailing mother, who is in her nineties, in Sharjah.
The former military ruler is currently under house arrest.
“His mother is dying, for god’s sake,” Lawyer Farough Naseem said.
“She is 94 and very ill.”
Naseem also said that, for nearly three months Musharraf has been in the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC) in Rawalpindi for a severe cardiac condition and his treatment was only possible in the US.
Musharraf was again moved to the AFIC’s ICU Saturday after his condition deteriorated upon receiving the news of his mother’s illness who is currently hospitalised in Sharjah and is suffering from respiratory complications.
“He has come voluntarily to the court and he has pleaded not guilty. He will come back voluntarily,” Naseem said.
After the hearing, chief prosecutor Akram Shaikh said Musharraf’s main defence rested in the claim that he acted on the advice of then-prime minister Shaukat Aziz and the cabinet when suspending the constitution.
“He has taken the defence that he did not take these steps independently,” Shaikh said.
“On this I have submitted before the court that it is now for him to prove that he did this on the advice of the prime minister and the cabinet,” he added.
Musharraf declared a state of emergency in November 2007, shortly before the Supreme Court was due to rule on the legality of his re-election as president a month earlier while he was also the army chief.
He then arrested and sacked the country’s top judges, including the chief justice, who challenged his decision.
Facing impeachment following democratic elections in 2008, Musharraf resigned as president, going into self-imposed exile Britain and Dubai.
He returned 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 Baluchistan and the death of ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto.