Few journalists and even fewer furtive glances at the entrance to the special court marked the fourth hearing of the treason trial against General (retd) Pervez Musharraf on Monday. The court gave the accused yet another exemption from appearing in person on a day when his absence came as no surprise, while also issuing an order for his medical certificate to be submitted today (Tuesday).
Unlike the previous hearings, where the courtroom was treated to the thespian skills of the defence and prosecution lawyers, Monday’s hearing seemed ‘routine’. The three-judge court – headed by Justice Faisal Arab – announced its decision after Musharraf failed to appear.
In his absence, the trial could not progress much. The presence of Musharraf is necessary for indictment, after which the court will formally commence trial proceedings and will start recording statements and evidence.
Prosecutor Akram Sheikh said arrest warrants should be issued for the accused and he should be brought to the court as the law required. As per the criminal law amendment (Special Court Act 1976) it is mandatory that the hearing is not adjourned barring special circumstances. While reading out the act, Sheikh said the accused cannot miss a hearing even on grounds of illness. He also proposed a video link for the indictment of the accused.
After a brief recess, the court read out its written order that two exemptions had already been given to the accused while he was at his farmhouse and it is a fact that he is in hospital and that arrest warrants cannot be issued. The order also held that Musharraf’s legal team failed to submit any medical certificate of the accused to justify his absence.
The court was less than convinced with Musharraf’s counsel’s reply that his client is unable to show up on account of his illness, and sought a medical report of the accused from the medical superintendent or any other relevant official of the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC) by 11:30am today (Tuesday), the next date of the hearing.
Musharraf’s legal team staged yet another protest when the prosecutor claimed that Musharraf is seeking the AFIC as a ‘hideout’ for avoiding the court. “A person who doesn’t surrender is not entitled to be represented,” Sheikh added.
Amid protest from the defence, Sheikh said Musharraf is a fugitive of the law.
Justice Arab censured Musharraf’s lawyer Ahmad Raza Kasuri for interrupting the proceedings, and said, “Once the prosecutor concludes his arguments then you can rebut it.”
During the proceedings, Musharraf’s legal team, particularly Kasuri, tried to link Sheikh’s remarks as an issue of prestige for the army, to deter the prosecution. “I mean what I said,” Sheikh said in response.
Anwar Mansoor, another lawyer in Musharraf’s defence team, stood in his seat and quoted Sheikh as saying that he was representing the federation. Sheikh clarified that since the federation is the complainant in this case, he has been arguing the case as prosecutor.
Sheikh completed his arguments on the preliminary objections over applications filed by Musharraf’s legal team challenging the jurisdiction of the special court. On Tuesday, Mansoor will speak in rebuttal of Sheikh.
While speaking to the media after the hearing, Kasuri criticised Sheikh and said this treason case was not a trial of the former president but of the institution of the armed forces. “We will not tolerate the humiliation of our army,” he said.
Sheikh, on the other hand, dispelled the notion and alleged that certain elements were wrongly trying to drag the reputed institution into the case. “This case is not against any institution but against a person who is trying to evade law,” he stressed.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2014.