ISLAMABAD – Pakistan's government plans to put former President Pervez Musharraf on trial for treason for declaring a state of emergency and suspending the constitution while in power, the interior minister said Sunday.
Musharraf, a former army chief, would be the first military ruler tried for treason in a country that has experienced three military coups in its 66-year history. He could face the death penalty or life in prison if he is convicted of treason, but some question whether the country's powerful army actually will let that happen. Musharraf has maintained his innocence.
The government plans to send a letter to the Supreme Court on Monday asking that treason proceedings begin under Article 6 of the constitution, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said during a news conference. The government made its decision after an investigating committee formed under the direction of the Supreme Court collected enough evidence for a trial, Khan said.
"Gen. Musharraf is accountable to the nation and the constitution," Khan said.
He specifically mentioned Musharraf's decision to suspend senior judges, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and detain them after he declared a state of emergency on Nov. 3, 2007. He was apparently concerned they would challenge his re-election as president.
"The constitution was ruined and violated," Khan said. "The judiciary was humiliated. Judges were manhandled physically, confined along with family and children."
The interior minister insisted that the government's decision to put the former president on trial for treason was not a personal vendetta by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was toppled in a military coup by Musharraf in 1999.
The government didn't indicate it would press charges against Musharraf for his coup, perhaps because the move was retroactively approved by the Supreme Court and parliament at the time.
One of Musharraf's lawyers, Ilyas Siddiqui, said the former president's legal team would decide its strategy once the court formally begins proceedings.
The prime minister said in June that the government intended to try Musharraf for treason, but would consult with other political parties on the move. Senior lawmakers from the two main opposition parties expressed their support for the government's plan to try Musharraf at the time.
Musharraf governed the country for nearly a decade after the 1999 coup but was forced to step down in 2008 after growing discontent with his rule. He left the country soon after. He returned to Pakistan in March after years in self-imposed exile, with the hope of running in the national election that was held in May. But he was disqualified from participating in the vote because of his actions while in power and has spent most of his time battling legal cases.
Musharraf was held under house arrest for months after returning and was only freed earlier this month after he received bail in four other cases facing him. But he is still barred from leaving the country.
The other cases facing Musharraf involve his alleged role in the murder of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the death of a Baluch separatist leader killed by the army, the killing of a radical cleric and the detention of Pakistani judges.