Pervez Musharraf misses court date for treason trial

Ex-Pakistan president and head of army misses hearing after his lawyers claim explosives were found near his home

Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf failed to appear at a treason trial his lawyers have described as biased and illegitimate, after explosives were found near his house on the outskirts of Islamabad.

Musharraf had been asked to attend the hearing on Wednesday at the grand national library building in the heart of the capital, where if he is found guilty of treason could see the 70-year-old former general sentenced to death.

But his lawyers said he was unable to attend after police found an explosive device along the route Musharraf would have taken to the historic hearing – the first time a former chief of Pakistan's powerful army has ever been put on trial.

It was the third time that small bombs have been found near the luxurious residence of the former general, who the Pakistani Taliban have repeatedly vowed to kill.

Musharraf failed to turn up to the first hearing of three-judge special court on 24 December when a bomb and weapons were discovered along the road.

Tayyab Mahmood Jafri, part of the large team of prosecution lawyers, heaped scorn on yet another discovery of explosives.

"How could a bomb be put there when the entire route is patrolled? The whole thing is just completely managed so they can play delaying tactics and avoid coming to the court," he said during a break during proceedings at a complex in the country's administrative centre. "The brave soldier is afraid of three unarmed judges."

Police and commandos surrounded the national library, where the case is being heard in a chilly auditorium.

Despite major security precautions the police told judge Faisal Arab they could only provide protection "within the available resources", which did not include a bombproof vehicle to convey the former president.

The defence team warned that the entire building was at risk of being bombed. Anwar Mansoor Khan, a lead defence lawyer, told the court that his car was rammed shortly after the last hearing by an unidentified four-wheel drive vehicle.

But the judge appeared unimpressed by the arguments over security fears, noting that courts continue to operate during times of war.

And he indicated that he could order the arrest of Musharraf, forcing him to attend the court under armed guard. He said he had not yet taken that step to avoid any embarrassment to a former president and army chief.

Musharraf's lawyers argued the case against their client flouted the constitution, was being heard by judges who could not be considered neutral and had been triggered by prime minister Nawaz Sharif's quest for "vengeance".

Although Musharraf toppled Sharif from power in 1999 when he seized power in a coup d'état, the treason trial only relates to his activities in late 2007 when he introduced a period of emergency rule and suspended senior judges.

The case is the most serious of the legal difficulties that have beset the former general since his return to Pakistan last March, when he was put under house arrest for various cases, including his alleged involvement in the death of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

He has since been bailed on all the private prosecutions, which most legal experts say he can expect to win. However, the government-initiated treason trial is considered to be a far trickier legal battle.

Musharraf has claimed he still has significant support from the army, and many analysts still believe a way will be found to spare his life and send him back into exile abroad.


Jon Boone in Islamabad

The GuardianTramp

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