Pakistan holds opposition leader over treason charge

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The Independent Online

Police have arrested Pakistan's opposition leader on charges of defaming the armed forces and attempting to incite mutiny, police and opposition leaders said yesterday.

Javed Hashmi, president of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), was picked up around midnight on Wednesday as he left his official residence near the parliament building. He was taken to a police station where a charge of treason was made against him. The authorities later moved him to an unknown location.

Mr Hashmi has been the most outspoken of Pakistan's mainstream politicians against President Pervez Musharraf's pro-United States policies. He became leader of the Pakistan Muslim League party after President Musharraf overthrew and expelled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a 1999 coup. He heads a 15-party opposition alliance in the National Assembly which controls 78 of the assembly's 342 seats, making him one of the country's most powerful politicians.

A statement by the Islamabad district administration said Mr Hashmi was arrested for defaming the armed forces during a new conference on 20 October. Mr Hashmi displayed an unsigned letter to journalists, written on military stationery, purportedly praising parliament for opposing an American request to contribute Pakistani troops to the allied forces in Iraq.

The letter criticised President Musharraf's policy of supporting the US-led war against terrorism in Afghanistan, and called for a parliamentary debate about the circumstances of President Musharraf's coup in 1999. The letter also demanded an investigation into the 1999 Kargil operation, when Pakistan and India fought a limited war in the high mountains of the disputed territory of Kashmir. President Musharraf was then the military chief of staff. After the news conference, authorities accused Mr Hashmi of using a forged letter. Mr Hashmi "has maligned Pakistan army personnel and attempted to incite them for mutiny", Pakistan's state-run news agency reported, quoting an official statement.

Mr Hashmi was elected president of the opposition alliance, ARD, earlier this month after the death of one of the country's strongest pro-democracy advocates, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan.

Mr Hashmi's daughter Memona Hashmi said police had not informed the speaker of the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, before arresting him. Under Pakistani law, no politician can be arrested unless the the legislature is informed in advance. "My father was treated like a criminal," she said. "He was dragged, beaten and thrown in a vehicle like a criminal." Mr Hashmi appeared before a court in Islamabad yesterday and was handed over to police for interrogation.

Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the Information Minister, said it was not clear how long the questioning would last or when Mr Hashmi would appear in court again. Mr Ahmed would not say where Mr Hashmi was being held. More than two dozen opposition politicians protested against the arrest in front of the parliament building in Islamabad yesterday.(AP)