Exiled former Pakistani military leader Pervez Musharraf was sentenced to death Tuesday after being found guilty of treason, a verdict swiftly condemned by the armed forces which have ruled the country for almost half its 72-year history.
The court’s decision marks the first time a former leader of the armed forces has been convicted of treason and sentenced to death in Pakistan, where the military maintains strong influence and senior officers are often considered immune from prosecution.
Musharraf has been in self-imposed exile ever since a travel ban was lifted in 2016, allowing him to seek medical treatment abroad.
The 76-year-old has lately spent most of his time between Dubai and London.
Several Pakistani media sources reported the verdict and sentence handed down by a three-member special court, while a senior judicial official confirmed the rulings to AFP.
Pakistan’s military denounced the special court’s ruling, saying in a statement that the armed forces were in “pain and anguish” over the decision.
“An ex-Army Chief, Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee and President of Pakistan, who has served the country for over 40 years, fought wars for the defense of the country, can surely never be a traitor,” the military said in a statement.
It added that the legal process “seems to have been ignored”.
The trial began in 2013 and is one of several involving Musharraf. It centered on his decision to suspend the constitution and impose emergency rule in 2007, according to his lawyer Akhtar Shah.
The move sparked widespread protests against Musharraf, ultimately leading to his resignation in the face of impeachment proceedings.
Musharraf’s lawyer said the former general was currently ill and remained in Dubai. He said no decision had been made on whether to appeal.
The nation’s current top prosecutor, Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan, said the judgement was “against the constitution”.
“If the person who is accused is not getting justice this government will stand against that injustice,” he said.
The court ruling came more than a week after Musharraf dismissed the treason case against him in a video message showing the former general in a hospital bed appearing ill while complaining of dizziness and blackouts.
“I think this case is baseless. They are not listening to me and they are not listening to my lawyer… It is a big injustice,” Musharraf said.
Retired general Talat Masood, now a security analyst, called the court’s decision “extraordinary” and “bold”.
Musharraf was born in India’s capital Delhi in 1943 but moved with his family to Pakistan after partition.
He took power after ousting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless 1999 coup.
A cigar-smoking, whisky-drinking moderate, the general became a major US ally in the “war on terror” after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
He escaped at least three Al-Qaeda assassination attempts during his nine years in office.
His rule faced no serious challenges until he tried to sack the chief justice in March 2007, sparking nationwide protests and months of turmoil that led to the imposition of a state of emergency.
After the December 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the national mood soured even further. He was left isolated by the crushing losses suffered by his allies in February 2008 elections.
Musharraf finally resigned in August 2008 in the face of impeachment proceedings by the new governing coalition and went into exile.
When Musharraf returned in 2013, aiming to contest elections, he was barred from taking part and from leaving the country. A barrage of legal cases mounted.
The treason case was first launched against Musharraf by his old foe Sharif in 2013. The case went on for years, repeatedly delayed, until Tuesday’s surprise announcement.
The treason ruling is the latest case to target Musharraf since he has been in exile.
In 2017, a Pakistani court pronounced him a fugitive in the murder trial of Bhutto — the first woman to be prime minister of a Muslim country.
The anti-terrorism court also branded Musharraf an absconder and ordered the confiscation of his property.
Musharraf is alleged to have been part of a broad conspiracy to have his rival Bhutto killed before elections. He has denied all charges.
Following the court’s decision Tuesday, Bhutto’s son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari tweeted: “Democracy is the best revenge”.