ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—A court handed down a death sentence for Pakistan’s self-exiled former military dictator, the first time the country’s judiciary has taken such action against a coup leader.
Former army chief Pervez Musharraf, in a file photo from April 2013, has been living in the United Arab Emirates. PHOTO: ANJUM NAVEED/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The treason ruling against former army chief Pervez Musharraf put the courts at odds with the country’s powerful military establishment.
Mr. Musharraf orchestrated a coup in 1999. Democracy was restored in 2008, but the military remains a dominant influence in Pakistan, with key ingredients of democracy—including freedom of the press—rolled back in recent years.
Mr. Musharraf has lived in the United Arab Emirates since 2016. He was given permission to leave Pakistan during his court case for medical treatment, but then never came back, leading the court to declare him an absconder.
The verdict has deep symbolic resonance in a country that has struggled to embed democracy and where past coup leaders have gone unpunished.
One of Gen. Musharraf’s lawyers, Akhtar Shah, spoke to the media after the verdict in Islamabad was handed down. PHOTO: AAMIR QURESHI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
“In my view, the case against me is baseless. I have gone above and beyond the call of duty for the country,” Mr. Musharraf said in a video statement this month recorded from a hospital bed in the U.A.E.
Mr. Musharraf has given no indication that he will return to Pakistan. His aides say he is unwell. His legal team on Tuesday said it would appeal the verdict.
“This is injustice,” said Raza Bashir, one of Mr. Musharraf’s lawyers. “Whatever [Mr. Musharraf] did was in the interests of this country. He respects the constitution.”
The treason case was initiated under a special court by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 2013. That move started Mr. Sharif’s prolonged battle with the military for the levers of power. The military didn’t want to see a former chief put on trial for his actions as the head of the army.
Mr. Sharif was himself removed from the prime minister position by the courts in 2017, and he was jailed for corruption in 2018. Mr. Sharif’s aides say the court acted in cahoots with the military, a charge denied by the judiciary and the armed forces.