Why Has Pervez Musharraf Been Convicted of Treason? Former Pakistan President Charged After Suspending Constitution in 2007

Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf has been sentenced to death in absentia on charges of high treason and subverting the constitution, in a landmark decision marking the culmination of a six-year case brought by his successors.

The 76-year-old former general seized power in a 1999 coup, ruling Pakistan until he resigned his post in 2008. Since then, the controversial leader has spent much of his time outside of Pakistan. He is currently receiving medical treatment in Dubai, Reuters reported.

The death sentence was handed down by Pakistan's anti-terrorism court, with two of the three judges electing for the penalty. The third judge did not support the death sentence, but was in favor of the conviction.

Law officer Salman Nadeem explained: "Pervez Musharraf has been found guilty of Article 6 for violation of the constitution of Pakistan." The article says that any person who suspends the constitution using force will be guilty of high treason, The Washington Post explained.

The ruling represents the first time that the head of the country's powerful military has been found guilty of high treason. Musharraf may yet challenge the sentence in Pakistan's High Court, and the fact he is living abroad means the sentence is unlikely to be carried out.

The ruling centers on Musharraf's decision to impose a state of emergency on Pakistan between November 2007 and February 2008.

The state of emergency was a response to growing opposition to his rule. In March 2007, Musharraf attempted to remove Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, an attempt later dismissed by the Supreme Court as illegal.

The attempt sparked mass protests—initially by lawyers but later joined by other Musharraf opponents—against the administration.

The situation was exacerbated by an indirect presidential election in October 2007, in which the Pakistani legislature handed Musharraf an overwhelming victory in a contest boycotted by opposition lawmakers.

At that time, Musharraf held the presidency while also heading the country's military. This brought him into regular conflict with the country's judiciary, Reuters noted.

During the state of emergency, all civil liberties and human rights were suspended, as were Pakistan's normal democratic processes—with senior judges and political leaders abruptly detained.

The unrest eventually cost Musharraf his position, forced to resign in August 2008 after his party performed poorly in a general election and he was facing impeachment by parliament. A few months later, he went into exile in London.

Though Musharraf returned to Pakistan in 2013, he quickly faced a number of legal challenges relating to his previous tenure. He was able to leave the country for Dubai to seek medical treatment in 2016 when the Supreme Court lifted a travel ban.

The government began the process of charging the former leader with high treason and subverting the constitution against Musharraf in 2013. The prosecution was led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who Musharraf deposed and exiled when he seized power in 1999, the BBC noted.

He eventually faced a total of five charges including three counts of subverting, suspending and changing the country's constitution, CNN reported. He was also charged with firing Chaudhry and imposing emergency rule.

Musharraf responded to Tuesday's ruling with a video of himself in a hospital bed in Dubai. The former president said he had not been afforded a fair trial, and defended his controversial legacy.

"I served the nation and made decisions for the betterment of the country," Musharraf claimed in the footage, according to Reuters.

Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan, death sentence, high treason
Supporters of the All Pakistan Muslim League, the party of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, take part in a protest after a special court's sentenced the former leader to deah in absentia in Karachi, Pakistan on December 17, 2019. ASIF HASSAN/AFP via Getty Images/Getty