Pakistan: Musharraf treason trial a ‘milestone’

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The indictment of General Pervez Musharraf on charges of treason marks a milestone for Pakistan’s judiciary, which must ensure his trial fully complies with international standards, the ICJ said in a briefing paper released today.

“General Musharraf’s treason trial is unprecedented in Pakistan’s political and legal history,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director. “This is an opportunity for Pakistan’s judiciary to demonstrate that no-one is above the law and that everyone accused of an offence has the right to a trial that is, and is seen to be, impartial, independent and expeditious.”

In its briefing paper, the ICJ highlights the legal framework and political context of the high treason trial against Pakistan’s former president and army general, Pervez Musharraf, in a Question and Answer format.

The Pakistan Government has established a special court to try General Musharraf for high treason on charges relating to his allegedly unconstitutional imposition of emergency rule and unlawful dismissal of judges on 3 November 2007. Under the law, high treason is punishable by death or life imprisonment.

On Monday, 31 March, Pervez Musharraf was formally indicted on five charges. He pleaded not guilty on all charges.

“This trial marks the first time a senior Pakistani military figure could be held to account for trampling on the rule of law and human rights in the country,” Zarifi said. “General Musharraf should be facing a proper trial for the many human rights violations that took place during his rule and under his command. But this case is at least a start.”

The lead-up to the trial has been marked by confusion, including erroneous reports last week suggesting that Justice Faisal Arab had quit the three-member special court, a move that could possibly have aborted the trial.

There have been many hurdles in the proceedings so far, including General Musharraf’s health, security threats, and concerns about whether he can be guaranteed a fair trial.

Many in Pakistan are celebrating the trial as a victory of rule of law, but others have expressed reservations about the selective nature of the proceedings: General Musharraf is only being tried for imposition of emergency rule on 3 November 2007, not for the military coup through which he usurped power in October 1999.

There are also serious allegations that widespread gross violations of human rights, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture, were carried out by the security forces while General Musharraf was the head of State and the military, yet no case has been instituted in relation to these gross violations of human rights thus far.

“Every effort must be taken to ensure that General Musharraf’s rights as an accused are protected and that the trial complies with Pakistani and international fair trial standards. If convicted of high treason he should be sentenced to life imprisonment, rather than the death penalty.”

The ICJ considers the death penalty in all cases to constitute a violation of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

To read the full text of the ICJ Briefing Paper, click on the following PDF file

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