Experts question legality of conviction in absentia.


Byline: Shahzad Ahmad

Lahore -- Country's top legal experts including Aitzaz Ahsan and former attorney general of Pakistan Irfan Qadir have questioned legality of special court's verdict handing former president and retired general Pervez Musharraf a death sentence in absentia under Article 6 of the Constitution.

Article 6 of the Constitution says: 'Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or hold in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance the Constitution by use of force or show force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.' The High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973 provides that the punishment for high treason is death or lifetime imprisonment.

This is the first time in Pakistan's history that former army chief has been handed a death sentence though the verdict, which is split 2-1, after declaring the ailing former army chief guilty of high treason. At present, Musharraf is hospitalised in the United Arab Emirates due to deterioration of his health.

Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan has put question mark on legality of the trial and conviction of Pervez Musharraf in absentia. However, he termed the decision in accordance with law.

In support of his claim, he argued that the former military ruler committed high treason twice.

In a 1999 coup, Musharraf ousted then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif and came to power. Then he imposed the state of emergency on November 3, 2007. He had imposed a state of emergency and placed several key judges under house arrest across the country.

Referring to the two incidents, Aitzaz elaborated, 'Firstly, Musharraf committed high treason, when he was dismissed by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who had authority to do so, by arresting the then PM, his whole family, all the chief ministers and ministers, and declared Martial Law in the country.

And later on November 3, he (Musharraf) arrested all the judges.'

However, he was of the opinion, one thing will be arguable whether in absentia, sentence could be announced.

Regarding his right to appeal, Aitzaz said that definitely he had right to file an appeal in the Supreme Court against special court's verdict but he had to surrender for the purpose. Citing Supreme Court's judgement, he said that appeal could be filed on ground of conviction in absentia.

On question of fair trial, Aitzaz, who is central leader of Pakistan People's Party, said that he had surely been given an opportunity of...

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