The prosecution and defence teams turned hostile with each other in a show of what one lawyer dubbed ‘Shakespearean theatrics’ on Wednesday, while the bench of the special court constituted to try General (retd) Pervez Musharraf took strong exception to his absence and hinted that a no-show by the former military ruler today may compel it to issue an order for his arrest.
While the defence complained about the venue and lack of desk space for papers, a three-judge special bench headed by Justice Faisal Arab sent a clear message that Musharraf would not be allowed further exemption from appearance in the high-treason case. He added that the non-bailable criminal offence of treason prima facie means police could arrest him even without a warrant. He also added that the former president had not sought bail in this case so far.
“Don’t force us to pass an order to take him into custody,” the judge warned Musharraf’s counsel, as he appeared in court for the second time without his client citing security concerns. “It is better for you to think about it because we are not going to pass an order today [Wednesday] and are giving another chance for surrender.”
Justice Arab observed that the court did not want to humiliate the former army chief and therefore had merely issued summons and not warrants.
Musharraf’s legal team held that as per the procedure of a high treason case, until the accused is found guilty, he cannot be punished. “Therefore Musharraf cannot be arrested during trial,” said Anwar Mansoor, the senior counsel on Musharraf’s legal team.
The environment of the court on January 1 was icier than the first, more relaxed hearing last week. While the presence of Rangers personnel in the courtroom at the National Library persisted, the harmony between defence and prosecution had turned into an abrasive cold friction. The teams objected to each others’ conduct several times. With Akram Sheikh appearing as prosecutor for the first time in the historic treason case, the defence objected that he is a ‘persecutor’, alleging that he is biased due to his closeness with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He also requested the court to postpone the hearing for five weeks.
After hearing objections raised by Musharraf’s legal team over the jurisdiction, composition and malice on the part of the bench, Justice Arab said an order will be passed after hearing complete arguments on these issues.
Khalid Ranjha addressed the court on Musharraf’s behalf, saying contempt proceedings be initiated against premier Sharif regarding a statement he made in the July 31, 2009, trial.
Amid snickers from observers, Anwar Mansoor said Nawaz should be tried for treason under Article 6.
At one instance, Mansoor alleged that Justice Tahira Safdar was a supporter of the retired Justice Chaudhry and that her father was also an “ardent admirer of the former chief justice”. Justice Safdar responded saying that it seems the lawyer is not aware that her father passed away 34 years ago.
‘Special’ security for court
When Ahmad Raza Kasuri, a member of Musharraf’s legal team, said that the court will be responsible if something happens to Musharraf, Justice Arab responded with a terse, “Don’t threaten the court.”
Despite Kasuri’s retort that even the judges security is at risk, Arab said that the courts continue to operate during wars and that the hearing cannot be stopped because a complaint has been lodged.
The Inspector General Islamabad Police told the court that 1,000 security personnel, including 732 police and 268 Rangers’ personnel, were deployed to provide security to Musharraf. The court held that Musharraf cannot avoid the hearing because of security threats. Addressing the court, DIG Security Jam Muhammad said Musharraf was provided adequate security to appear in court and return to his farmhouse after the hearing.
The DIG told the court that while Musharraf had been provided a bullet-proof car, his vehicle was not bomb-proof. The police official also said he is not aware whether bomb-proof vehicles are available in Pakistan.
To this Anwar Mansoor said, “We have zero confidence in the police because they are directly operating under the interior ministry which is complainant in this case.”
At the hearing scheduled to take place today (Thursday), around 1,500 security personnel are said to be deployed.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2014.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ