Pakistan's top court upholds late military ruler Pervez Musharraf's death sentence in treason case

In December 2019, Musharraf was sentenced to death in absentia


In a landmark judgment, Pakistan's Supreme Court, on Wednesday, upheld the death sentence of now-deceased former military ruler Pervez Musharraf given to him by a special court in a high treason case.

In December 2019, Musharraf was sentenced to death in absentia by the special court which found him guilty of high treason, for imposing a state of emergency on November 3, 2007, by keeping the constitution in abeyance. However, the Lahore High Court in January 2020 had declared the special court and its proceeding as unconditional.

The issue of his sentence and the LHC judgement were before the apex court where a four-member bench headed by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa and comprising Justices Mansoor Ali Shah, Aminuddin Khan and Athar Minallah conducted the hearing.

"The impugned passed on January 13, 2020 by the Lahore High Court (LHC) [] is not sustainable and accordingly set aside," Chief Justice Isa said while announcing the short order.

During the hearing, Hamid Khan and Musharraf's counsel Salman Safdar appeared before the court.

"Musharraf's legal heirs did not follow the case even on multiple notices," the apex court remarked while rejecting the former president's appeal.

It is for the first time that a former military dictator has been awarded punishment for subverting the constitution.

Musharraf, the architect of the Kargil War in 1999 and the coup-prone country's last military ruler, died on February 5, 2023 in Dubai after a prolonged illness. The 79-year-old former president was undergoing treatment for amyloidosis in Dubai. He was living in the UAE since 2016 in self-exile to avoid criminal charges back home.

The then prime minister Nawaz Sharif had initiated a treason trial against Musharraf in 2013.

On December 17, 2019, a three-judge special court, comprising Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth, Justice Nazar Akbar and Justice Shahid Karim sentenced Musharraf to death - who was sentenced in absentia due to illness and being out of the country - under Article 6 of the Constitution of Pakistan.

The Article states that any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance the Constitution by use of force or show force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.

The charges against Musharraf had stemmed from his imposition of a state of emergency in 2007 and subsequently for being guilty of high treason for abrogating the Constitution.

The judgement angered the country's powerful army that has ruled over Pakistan for most the period since its existence. It was the first time a former top military official had faced such a sentence for treason in Pakistan.

The LHC constituted a full bench, headed by Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, to hear a petition filed by Musharraf who challenged the trial against him and the formation of a special court. The LHC bench on January 13, 2020 quashed the death penalty by declaring the formation of the special court bench as unconstitutional.

Later the verdict of the special court and the LHC were challenged in the apex court.

Musharraf's counsel, Salman Safdar, said that he tried contacting Musharraf's family after the court decided to hear the appeal but the family never responded to him.

In the previous hearing on November 29, 2023, the top court observed that all those, including the judges, who validated the martial law imposed by Musharraf on October 12, 1999, should be held accountable.

Justice Athar had also remarked that the judges who validated the imposition of martial law by Musharraf in 1999 should also be tried.

The chief justice had observed that we should learn from our history adding that even if someone was not punished for abrogating the Constitution, at least one should admit that what was done in the past was wrong.

The chief justice further observed that the primary aspect was recognition of the wrongdoing and everyone should at least accept that a wrong had been done in the past.

Justice Athar had remarked that one should speak the truth and the truth was that the judges who validated the martial law should also be tried and given a fair trial.


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