ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani court sentenced former military dictator Pervez Musharraf to death in absentia on Tuesday on treason charges stemming from his imposition of a state of emergency in 2007.
Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup and later ruled as president until 2008, is out of the country and did not comment on a ruling widely seen as part of a standoff between the judiciary and military over the rule of law.
“Pervez Musharraf has been found guilty of Article 6 (of the constitution) for violation of the constitution of Pakistan,” government law officer Salman Nadeem said.
The full ruling by a special anti-terrorism court was not immediately available but the three judges reached a majority verdict, with two of them deciding against Musharraf.
Musharraf, 76, is the first former army chief to be charged with treason in Pakistan and has said the powerful military helped him get out of the country.
In a strongly worded statement, the army said the ruling had caused “pain and anguish” in the ranks and added: “The due legal process seems to have been ignored.”
It said the case had been concluded in haste and that Musharraf “fought wars for the defense of the country (and) can surely never be a traitor.”
Musharraf imposed a state of emergency at a time when he faced growing opposition to his rule. All civil liberties, human rights and democratic processes were suspended from November 2007 to February 2008.
The final years of his rule were marked by struggles with the judiciary over his wish to remain head of the army while president. He quit in 2008, after a political party that backed him fared poorly in a national election.
In a video recording issued from a hospital bed in Dubai, Musharraf said last month he was not being given a fair hearing in the case, filed in 2013 by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose government was ousted by Musharraf in 1999.
“I served the nation and made decisions for the betterment of the country,” Musharraf said.
A lawyer representing Musharraf said he would challenge the court ruling.
Ahsan Iqbal, an aide to Sharif, hailed the ruling as a big day for democracy and hoped it would help end “the tradition of violating the constitution.”
Senator Pervaiz Rashid, also an aide to Sharif, called it a landmark ruling that would help constrain the military.
“We have secured our future generations,” he said.
The judiciary has been increasingly assertive in its battle with the military to establish the rule of law.
Three weeks ago, the Supreme Court struck down a three-year extension of army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s tenure, saying were no legal or constitutional grounds to grant the general another term after his retirement on Nov. 29.
Reporting by Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Writing by Rupam Jain, Editing by Robert Birsel and Timothy Heritage