–Former president’s petition claims ‘judgement contained a mix of anomalies and contradictory statements’
–States ‘special court announced capital punishment for applicant without examining accused under Section 342 of CrPC’
LAHORE: Former president Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf on Friday filed a petition in the Lahore High Court (LHC), challenging the verdict by a special court in Islamabad in the high treason case against him.
On December 17, a special court in Islamabad sentenced Musharraf to death under Article 6 for holding the Constitution in abeyance by imposing a state of emergency on November 3, 2007.
Following the release of the full verdict on Dec 19 – which stated that if the former president dies before the sentence is executed, his body must be dragged to D-Chowk in Islamabad and hanged for three days – Musharraf, through a video message, announced to challenge the verdict.
On Friday, a petition was filed by Advocate Azhar Siddique on Gen (r) Musharraf’s behalf. The 86 page-long petition nominated the federal government and others as respondents. A full bench, chaired by Justice Mazahir Ali Akbar Naqvi, scheduled the petition for hearing on Jan 9, 2020.
The petition highlighted that the “judgment contained a mix of anomalies and contradictory statements”. It added that the special court “rapidly and hurriedly wrapped up the trial which was far from [a] conclusion”.
“The special court […] announced an award of capital punishment to the applicant without examining the accused under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) (power to examine the accused). The importance of examining the accused in a criminal trial is enormous and any lapse, failure or omission to fulfill this requirement adversely affects the prosecution case.
“A criminal trial cannot simply [be] complete without adhering to this mandatory legal requirement.”
The petition stated that the special court “has not taken into consideration that no actions detrimental to national interest were taken by the applicant” as “no offense of high treason is made out from the evidence presented against him [Musharraf] before the special court”.
The petition also challenged the verdict’s graphic paragraph 66 which read: “We direct the law enforcement agencies to strive their level best to apprehend the fugitive/convict [Pervez Musharraf] and to ensure that the punishment is inflicted as per law and if found dead, his corpse be dragged to the D-Chowk [in front of the Parliament House], Islamabad, Pakistan, and be hanged for three days”.
The petition stated: “The Honourable respective president of the special court has crossed all religious moral, civil and constitutional limits, while ruthlessly, irreligiously, unlawfully, unrealistically awarding a debilitating, humiliating, unprecedented and against the dignity of a person sentence […] through para 66.”
It merits a mention here that the special court tried and sentenced the accused in absentia. The prosecution had filed an application with the special court on Dec 17, urging it to constitute a commission to record the statement of Gen (retd) Musharraf under Section 342 of the criminal procedure code, which was a pre-requisite in the criminal proceedings.
However, the court returned the application, observing that the Supreme Court had already decided on the issue, which could not be entertained at this stage.
The detailed verdict attracted strong criticism from the military with Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor issuing a statement that the court decision was received “with [a] lot of pain and anguish by rank and file of Pakistan armed forces”.
The high treason trial was initiated by the previous government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in 2013 after coming to power.
Musharraf was booked in the case in December 2013. He was indicted on March 31 the following year and the prosecution had tabled the entire evidence before the special court in September the same year. However, due to litigation at appellate forums, the trial of the former military dictator lingered on.
In 2016, Musharraf – who had been placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) – left Pakistan for Dubai for medical treatment after his name was removed from the no-fly by the interior ministry.
On Dec 17, the court announced the verdict it had saved on November 19 “on the basis of available record”.
At the time, the special court had said it would announce the verdict on November 28. However, days before the final verdict was to be announced, the government sought deferment of the announcement of the verdict. It also filed a petition with the Islamabad High Court (IHC), requesting that “the special court be restrained from passing final judgment in the trial”.
Subsequently, on November 27, the IHC stopped the special court from issuing its verdict reserved in the case on November 19. Additionally, they directed the government to notify a prosecution team by December 5.
However, the special court bench was of the view that the IHC’s order was not binding on them. The IHC, however, ruled that its order of stopping the special court from announcing its verdict was binding on it (special court) regardless of the fact that it comprises three high court judges.
On December 5, the new prosecution team for the government appeared before the special court after which the special court adjourned proceedings till December 17, adding that it would hear arguments and announce the verdict on the same day.