ISLAMABAD - The special court hearing treason charges against ex-ruler Pervez Musharraf on Friday rejected his plea for trial in a military court and summoned him on March 11 for indictment, a decision termed by a defence counsel ‘black decision’ by ‘paid murderers’.
Lawyers of former president-general Musharraf had challenged the right of the civilian court in Islamabad to try the ex-army chief who appeared in person before judges for the first time on Tuesday.
"This application is dismissed," lead judge Faisal Arab said at the end of Friday's hearing. The three-judge bench ruled that he was no longer in the army and that high treason can be tried exclusively in a special court.
As the court was announcing its order on the jurisdiction issue, one of Musharraf counsels - Rana Ijaz - came on the rostrum and said: “It is a black decision and we don’t accept it... It seems that you (judges) are playing the role of paid murderers.”
These highly derogatory remarks even embarrassed senior defence lawyers Anwar Mansoor and Sharifuddin Pirzada who strongly objected to their teammate’s remarks and said to him, “Please don’t say such words and sit down!”
But visibly enraged Ijaz did not listen to them too and asked the court “if you find Musharraf guilty then send me to jail instead of him.” This was second demonstration of such conduct by Ijaz during the high profile case, apparently aimed at attracting media attention.
After the court decision another senior member of Musharraf’s legal team, Ahmed Raza Kasuri said, "This decision to try Musharraf in a civilian court is factually wrong. The facts have been twisted." The 70-year-old former military boss, who ruled the country for over 10 years, faces treason charges that can carry the death penalty over his imposition of a state of emergency in 2007 while he was president.
Kasuri told media persons outside the court that Musharraf had signed the order for imposition of emergency as the army chief and not as president. He said that the judges should have recused themselves as they are biased against Musharraf. They were dismissed by Musharraf and held agitations against him, he added.
Musharraf became the first former army chief to appear in the court on February 18 in a case seen as a test of civilian rule over the country's powerful army.
He has endured a torrid time since returning to Pakistan in March last year on an ill-fated mission to run in the general election. Almost as soon as he landed he was barred from contesting the vote and hit with a barrage of legal cases dating back to his 1999-2008 rule.
In the last hearing when Musharraf appeared before the special court amid tight security the bench on the request of his counsels deferred framing of charges till decision on jurisdiction issue. The court on February 18 had reserved its verdict on the Musharraf application for conducting his trail in a military court under Army Act 1952.
According to the Friday’s order, the special court – established under the Criminal Law Amendment (Special Court) Act 1976 – ousts the jurisdiction of all other courts for the trial of Pervez Musharraf for high treason charges. The sub-section (2) of Section 3 of the Criminal Law Amendment (Special Court) Act, 1976 places a bar on the jurisdiction of all other courts as it specifies in clear terms “no court other than the special court shall try an offence, which is triable by the special court under Sub-section 1 of Section 3 of the High Treason (Punishment) Act 1973”.
The order said: “The instant Criminal Miscellaneous Application No.6/2013 seeking transfer of the complaint from this court to the court-martial under Pakistan Army Act is dismissed.” The order stated that the accused (Musharraf) upon his retirement in 2007 is no more subject to Army Act 1952 and this court has mandate to punish the former general under High Treason (Punishment) Act 1973.
The hearing started approximately two hours late as the judges entered the courtroom at 11:50 and announced the order. The court observed that the complete ouster of jurisdiction of all other courts under Sub-section 2 of Section 3 of the Criminal Law Amendment (Special Court) Act, 1976 for the trial of offences punishable under the High Treason (Punishment) Act 1973 makes no distinction as to any class of persons who are to be tried and do not exclude even an army personnel from its applicability.
“A person, whether from armed forces or a civilian, can be competently tried only before the special court if charged with offences punishable under the High Treason (Punishment) Act 1973,” the order said. The court noted that the instant Criminal Miscellaneous Application, challenging the jurisdiction of this court has been found to be without merit.
The court held that Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act 1977 (Act X of 1977) is repealed by virtue of the Federal Law (Revision and Declaration) Ordinance 1981 (XXVII of 1981) with effect from July 8, 1981. This was the main argument of the defence that as offences of high treason have been included in the Army Act 1952 therefore their client should be tried by the military court. The defence had objected to the formation of the three-member special court saying that being the former army chief, 70-year-old Musharraf can only be tried by a military court.
The court adjourned until March 4 the case for hearing the application on appointment of Akram Sheikh as Prosecutor.