Former Pakistani Army Chief Perez Musharraf was again excused from court today over safety concerns, postponing his treason trial. Musharraf is expected to be present in court this Friday. The former leader and his defense lawyer, Ahmed Raza Kasuri, have received multiple death threats from the Pakistani Taliban. The recent threat, in a long line of similar discourse, came in a letter to Kasuri. “You will be slaughtered,” the note said, “if you [fail to] disassociate yourself with…Musharraf’s case.”
Musharraf is being tried for high treason for his decision to suspend the constitution and declare a state of emergency on March 3, 2007. Soon after Musharraf’s return from exile in London last summer, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced the government’s intent to try him for treason.
The defense read the Taliban’s letter aloud to the special court in order to postpone Musharraf’s appearance in court today. However, this is not the first time the hearing has been pushed back. The first expected hearing was set for Christmas Eve 2013.
The hearing last December was postponed until New Year’s Day after suspicious explosive devices and handguns were found on Musharraf’s route to the hearing. The exact same threat on Jan. 1st delayed the hearing once more until the 9th.
On that third set date, the the former military leader fell ill en route to the hearing and was immediately taken to a military hospital. The claims of ill health including spinal issues, hypertension, clogged arteries and a bad knee are widely disputed across Pakistan. The defense requested permission for Musharraf to travel to America for medical treatment, but it was denied.
Many in Pakistan believe Musharraf is playing sick in order to travel to America and evade the treason conviction. One brazen journalist, Murtaza Solangi responded to the claims of ill heath by tweeting, “How can you have spinal issues…[if] you don’t have a spine to begin with?” With the trial again postponed, Musharraf had yet to hear the indictment of treason.
Musharraf did finally appear in court on February 18, only to sit and hear the defense lawyer’s pleas to have the case before a military, rather than a civilian, court. The expected indictment of crimes was not read on this date, and Musharraf returned to the hospital.
On March 5, the proceedings failed to happen, as there were no judges or lawyers in the court. A boycott called by legal professionals caused this delay after a bomb attack killed 11 people in the capitol, Islamabad. The court was to again adjourn yesterday before Kasuri presented the threatening Taliban letter.
The interior ministry also cautioned the court after the Taliban noted sympathizers within the armed protection of Musharraf. The information was leaked to the media and reminded many of the death of former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who was killed by his own protective police.
The indictment is expected to be read on Friday and if charged, the former military chief could face life in prison or the death penalty. After multiple postponements, Musharraf is again set to face trial on counts of treason against Pakistan.
By Erin P. Friar