Last chance for Musharraf to testify in treason trial

SC says former president not be entitled to get his statement recorded if he doesn't appear on May 2

Our Correspondent April 01, 2019
Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf. PHOTO: INP/FILE

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has ordered a special court – conducting high treason trial of former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf – to announce its judgment on basis of available evidence presented by the prosecution side if Musharraf fails to appear before it on May 2.

A three-judge SC bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Asif Saeed Khosa, issued this order on Monday while hearing a petition that sought to expedite the trail that was initiated in 2013 by the special court against Musharraf for subverting the Constitution in November 2007.

The SC said Musharraf –who left the country for 'medical treatment' in 2016 but has not returned since – would lose right of defence in this case on nonappearance on next hearing. He would not be entitled to get his statement recorded under section 342 if he does not attend court proceeding.

"However, if the accused appeared on the next hearing, he would be provided all facilities to present his defence," said the order.  Earlier, the CJP Khosa asked Musharraf's counsel whether the accused had given any assurance regarding his return.

"What would be the next option if the accused didn't fulfil his commitment," he asked. Musharraf's counsel Suleman Safdar said his client wanted to appear before the special court to record his statement. "Musharraf has given May 13 as the date of his return," he said.

The CJP remarked that the court would not let the accused exploit the situation by not appearing before the court deliberately, adding that the high treason was not an ordinary case.

The prosecutor argued that the court had framed charges against the accused in his presence. The former president had earlier given assurance to appear before the court if summoned.

The CJP said the federal government allowed Musharraf to travel abroad and did not take measures to get him back. Government itself made the matter so complex," the CJP said.

He noted that the special court had already decided in 2016 that the trial against Musharraf could not move forward in his absence. "The government did not challenge decision of the special court," he said.

The petitioner, Ahsanuddin Sheikh, said the last Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had given a safe passage to Musharraf after an alleged deal. He requested the court to use powers under Article 187 of the Constitution.

Musharraf's counsel said his client had never been arrested rather he was allowed by the government to travel abroad in view of his health problems. The CJP observed that Musharraf's was likely to submit a medical report to the special court rather than appearing before it on May 2.

After a short break, the court ordered the special court to continue trial in absence of Musharraf if he fails to appear on May 2. The bench ordered that the accused would not be entitled to present his defence in case of nonappearance.

"The former president has become absconder during the trial process.  There is no need to record the accused's statement under section 342 if he failed to appear," the bench observed, ordering the special court to announce its judgment on available evidence in case on Musharraf's nonappearance.

The high treason case against Musharraf started in November 2013 months after the PML-N government came to power.  At first, the special court had directed the federal government to also include names of Musharraf's three alleged abettors in the case.

Due to that order, the special court's proceedings remained suspended for a couple of years. Later, the SC set aside the order and directed it to conduct trial of Musharraf only.

The former army chief, however, went abroad in 2016 citing medical reasons. He has yet to return. Meanwhile, several judges who were part of the special court have either retired or been elevated to the apex court.



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