This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
A Pakistani court has handed a death sentence to former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf on treason charges for suspending the country’s constitution 12 years ago.
The 76-year-old ex-strongman is now living in exile in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.).
The special court in Islamabad announced the verdict on December 17 with a 2-1 majority.
Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan between 1999 and 2008, is the first military ruler to stand trial in Pakistan for overruling the constitution.
In a video statement issued from his hospital bed earlier this month, Musharraf described the case against him as “baseless.”
The court’s decision “has been received with lot of pain and anguish by rank and file of Pakistan Armed Forces,” the military said, adding that Musharraf “has served the country for over 40 years, fought wars for the defense of the country can surely never be a traitor.”
The statement also took issue with what it called the “denial of the fundamental right to self-defense” and “concluding the case in haste.”
“The Armed Forces of Pakistan expect justice to be dispensed in line with Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” the statement said.
Amnesty International’s deputy South Asia director, Omar Waraich, said that “it is encouraging to see Pakistan break with a history of impunity for powerful generals.”
But Waraich also reiterated the London-based human rights watchdog’s opposition to the death penalty, which he described as “the ultimate cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment.”
Musharraf was appointed to lead the Pakistani Army in 1998 and overthrew then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless military coup the following year, before serving as president from 2001 to 2008.
He suspended the constitution and imposed emergency rule on November 3, 2007 — a move that has sparked protests — and resigned in August 2008 to avoid possible impeachment.
When Sharif became prime minister for a third term in 2013, he initiated a treason trial against Musharraf, who was charged with high treason the next year — a highly significant move in a country that has been ruled by the military for almost half of its existence since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.
Musharraf, who has been living in self-imposed exile since he was allowed to leave the country for medical treatment in 2016, has refused to appear before the court.
He argued the case was politically motivated and that the actions he took in 2007 were agreed by the government.
A detailed verdict against him is to be issued later.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government would “review in detail” the ruling before commenting on it, Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said.
Musharraf is said to be very ill and unlikely to return to Pakistan to face the sentence. Pakistan and the U.A.E. have no extradition treaty.
If he travels back home, however, legal experts said he would have the right to challenge his conviction and sentence in court.
Responding to Musharraf’s conviction and sentencing, Pakistan’s army said in a statement 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.”
Meanwhile, Waraich said Musharraf and the government he led must be held to account for “all human rights violations committed during their time in office, not just a select few.”
These violations include extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary detentions, deaths in custody, and unlawful killings, he said.