ISLAMABAD • A Pakistani special court has sentenced former military dictator and president Pervez Musharraf to death in absentia, ending a six-year-long high treason case against him and delivering a historic verdict against the country's powerful army.
In a two-to-one majority, the three-member special court headed by judge Waqar Ahmad Seth announced the verdict, Musharraf's spokesman Mohammad Amjad said yesterday.
Musharraf has been in Dubai since 2016 for medical treatment and never attended the legal proceedings. He has the right to appeal in the Supreme Court, according to former attorney-general Ashtar Ausaf.
"We'll definitely challenge it in the Supreme Court," Musharraf's lawyer Raza Bashir said on the television channel Samaa, expressing concern that the verdict was given in hurry and his client did not get fair trial.
After the sentence was announced, Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said Prime Minister Imran Khan's government would "review in detail" the verdict before commenting on it.
It is the first time in Pakistan's 72-year history that a military ruler has faced high treason charges - in this case for imposing emergency rule and suspending the Constitution in 2007.
Musharraf, as the army chief, toppled the civilian government of Mr Nawaz Sharif in 1999 and later became the military president.
The South Asian nation has a history of being ruled by army dictators, who have imposed four periods of martial law since independence from the UK in 1947.
The verdict is historic and it will be welcomed by all democratic forces.
MR AHSAN IQBAL, a senior leader of Mr Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, on the verdict against Pervez Musharraf.
Democracy is the best revenge.
MR BILAWAL BHUTTO ZARDARI, co-chief of Pakistan Peoples Party, echoing his mother Benazir Bhutto's comments before she was slain in a terrorist attack.
The verdict will "have a major positive impact on democracy and the rule of law as after decades, a person has been tried and sentenced", Mr Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, said in Islamabad. "It will have a deterrent value."
Musharraf was a key ally of the US after the Sept 11 attacks until he was forced to step down in 2008 to avoid impeachment by Parliament.
Mr Sharif began treason proceedings against Musharraf soon after he came back to power in 2013.
Pakistan's biggest political parties, whose respective governments have been toppled at least once in the past by military dictators, welcomed the verdict.
"The verdict is historic and it will be welcomed by all democratic forces," said Mr Ahsan Iqbal, a senior leader of Mr Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party.
"Democracy is the best revenge," tweeted Mr Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the co-chief of Pakistan Peoples Party, echoing his mother Benazir Bhutto's comments before she was slain in a terrorist attack in 2007.
Mr Bilawal's grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was removed as the prime minister by former general Zia-ul-Haq in 1977.
The army is known to control Pakistan's foreign and security policies and political leaders have often blamed it for interfering in politics - including helping Prime Minister Khan's party - Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf - win the 2018 elections.
Both the army and Mr Khan have denied the claims.
The special court last month delayed its judgment in Musharraf's case after Mr Khan's administration and the former military chief sought more time for arguments.
An anti-terrorism court has already declared him an absconder and ordered the confiscation of his assets in the murder case of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
BLOOMBERG, ASSOCIATED PRESS