Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf has appeared for the first time in front of a court which will decide whether he committed high treason.
The appearance, Musharraf’s first in front of the court since proceedings started on December 24, 2013 is a powerful blow to the prestige of the country’s powerful military establishment. Pakistan has undergone three military-led coups since it was founded in 1947, and the military is often perceived as above the law.
Musharraf missed two appearances due to security scares and was then taken to hospital on January 2 after complaining of chest pains on the way to the Islamabad courthouse. He petitioned to be allowed to go abroad for treatment, but the court rejected his request.
His failure to appear at court sparked speculation he would use the health scare as a way to leave the country but after the brief hearing Musharraf told a reporter sitting in the courtroom that he was feeling “good”.
Up until the minute that his heavily armed convoy left the hospital in Rawalpindi where he was being treated, it was not clear whether the former four-star general would appear in front of the three judges.
Wearing a traditional Pakistani outfit called the shalwar kameez, Musharraf entered the courtroom while some of the lawyers chanted slogans in support and clapped. When the judges entered, Musharraf stood up and saluted.
But the judges failed to indict him as had been expected, saying that they would first rule on a defence motion challenging whether they had jurisdiction to hear the case in the first place. The chief judge, Faysal Arab, said if the court decides it has jurisdiction, Musharraf can be called again.
The defence has said that since Musharraf was the chief of army staff, a civilian court cannot hear the case.
The defence has also been alleging that the legal process is a sham designed to harass their client. They have challenged the objectivity of the judges as well as the way the legal panel was formed.
A defence lawyer said: “Musharraf has appeared before the court to prove that he believes in the rule of law, and he faced the judges with the utmost humility.”
Musharraf took power in a 1999 coup and ruled the country for nearly a decade until he was forced to step down in 2008 after he became deeply unpopular. He later went into self-imposed exile. He returned to Pakistan in March 2013 to take part in elections. But he almost immediately faced a slew of legal problems.
The high treason case relates to his decision in 2007 to declare a state of emergency and detain a number of judges including the country’s chief justice.