Former Pakistan leader Musharraf sentenced to death
(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 12, 2004, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf answers a question during an interview in Rawalpindi. A Pakistan court on December 17, 2019 sentenced former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in absentia to death for treason, state media reported, an unprecedented move in the South Asian country where the armed forces are often considered immune from prosecution. (Jewel SAMAD / AFP)
(AFP) - Exiled former Pakistan military leader Pervez Musharraf was sentenced to death Tuesday after being found guilty of treason, an unprecedented move in a country where the armed forces are often considered immune from prosecution.
The court's decision marks the first time a former leader of the armed forces has been sentenced to death in Pakistan, where the military maintains a firm grip on power and has ruled the country for roughly half its 72-year history.
Musharraf has been in self-imposed exile ever since a travel ban was lifted in 2016 that allowed him to seek medical treatment abroad.
The 76-year-old has lately spent most of his time between Dubai and London.
Several Pakistan media sources reported the verdict and sentence, while a senior court official confirmed the rulings to AFP.
The trial -- which began in 2013 and is one of several involving Musharraf -- centres on his decision to suspend the constitution and impose emergency rule in 2007, according to his lawyer Akhtar Shah.
The move sparked widespread protests against Musharraf, ultimately leading to his resignation in the face of impeachment proceedings.
Musharraf's lawyer said the former general was currently ill and remained in Dubai. He said no decision had been made on whether to appeal.
Retired general Talat Masood, now a security analyst, called the court's decision "extraordinary".
"That the courts would take such a bold decision or give a bold judgement shows that there is a major transformation that is taking place in Pakistan," he said.
- 'Revenge' -
Musharraf, who was born in India's capital New Delhi in 1943 but moved with his family to Pakistan after partition, took power after ousting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup in 1999.
A cigar-smoking, whisky-drinking moderate, the general became a key US ally in the "war on terror" after the September 11 attacks and escaped at least three Al-Qaeda assassination attempts during his nine years in office.
His rule faced no serious challenges until he tried to sack the chief justice in March 2007, sparking nationwide protests and months of turmoil that led to the imposition of a state of emergency.
After the December 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the national mood soured further and he was left isolated by the crushing losses suffered by his allies in February 2008 elections.
Musharraf finally resigned in August 2008 in the face of impeachment proceedings by the new governing coalition and went into exile.
He returned in 2013 in an attempt to contest elections, but was barred from taking part in the polls and from leaving the country as a barrage of legal cases mounted.
Tuesday's ruling is the latest court decision to target Musharraf while he has been in exile.
In 2017, a Pakistani court pronounced him a fugitive in the murder trial of Bhutto -- the first woman prime minister of a Muslim country.
The anti-terrorism court also branded Musharraf an absconder and ordered the confiscation of his property.
Musharraf is alleged to have been part of a broad conspiracy to have Bhutto killed before elections. He has denied all charges.
Following the court's decision Tuesday, Bhutto’s son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari tweeted: "Democracy is the best revenge".
© Agence France-Presse