Former Pakistan President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf has been sentenced to death in absentia for high treason following a six-year legal case.
A three-member special court in Islamabad on Tuesday convicted Musharraf of violating the constitution by unlawfully declaring emergency rule while he was in power, in a case that had been pending since 2013.
The 76-year-old former leader, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates for more than three years, has the option to appeal the verdict.
Musharraf seized power in a military coup in 1999 and ruled Pakistan as President until 2008.
He was indicted in 2014 on a total of five charges, including three counts of subverting, suspending and changing the country’s constitution, firing Pakistan’s chief justice, and imposing emergency rule.
It’s the first time in Pakistan’s history that an army chief has been tried and found guilty of treason. Under Pakistan’s constitution, high treason is a crime that carries the death penalty or life imprisonment.
The special court ruled on the death sentence by a two to one majority, with one of the three judges not backing the death sentence but agreeing on a conviction.
Musharraf has been living in Dubai since 2016 after Pakistan’s Supreme Court lifted a travel ban allowing him to leave the country to seek medical treatment. From his hospital bed in Dubai earlier this month, the former leader said in a video statement that he was innocent and the treason case was “baseless.”
Pakistan Armed Forces in a statement said the special court’s sentence had been received “with a lot of pain and anguish.”
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said that Musharraf “can surely never be a traitor” and that he had served the country for over 40 years.
“The due legal process seems to have been ignored including (the) constitution of special court, (the) denial of fundamental right of self-defense, undertaking individual specific proceedings and concluding the case in haste,” the statement said.
It added that the Armed Forces of Pakistan “expect that justice will be dispensed in line with the Constitution of Islamic Republic.”
In 2007, Musharraf declared a state of emergency, suspended Pakistan’s constitution, replaced the chief judge and blacked out independent TV outlets.
Musharraf said he did so to stabilize the country and to fight rising Islamist extremism. The action drew sharp criticism from the United States and democracy advocates. Pakistanis openly called for his removal.
Under pressure from the West, Musharraf later lifted the state of emergency and called elections in which his party fared badly.
Musharraf stepped down in August 2008 after the governing coalition began taking steps to impeach him. Prosecutors say Musharraf violated Pakistan’s constitution by imposing the state of emergency.