Pervez Musharraf ordered to be held for two weeks after appearing in Pakistan court

 

A Pakistani judge today ordered the former military ruler Pervez Musharraf be held in custody for two more weeks, until the next hearing in a case related to his 2007 decision to sack and detain several judges.

The development is the latest act in the drama surrounding Musharraf that erupted earlier this week and climaxed with his arrest on Friday after a speedy escape from another court hearing.

The former general, who seized power in a coup and ruled Pakistan for nearly a decade, has seen his fortunes plummet since he returned in March after four years in self-imposed exile.

The judge's ruling said that Musharraf would be given judicial remand, which means that he would be held in jail until the next hearing on May 4.

Musharraf's legal team has been pushing that his estate on the edge of the capital, Islamabad, be declared a sub-jail under the Pakistani legal system, which would mean that he could stay there, essentially under house arrest.

But Musharraf's lawyer, Malik Qamar Afzal, said no decision had yet been made on that.

Today's hearing at the Islamabad courthouse was brief. Musharraf was brought under heavy security as supporters and opponents gathered outside the court. Immediately after the hearing, he was taken back to the police guesthouse where he had spent the night.

He was arrested in the case that stems from his decision, while in power, to sack and detain the judges, including the country's chief justice, after declaring a state of emergency and suspending the constitution.

At the time, Musharraf was apparently concerned the judges would push back against his re-election as president. As a justification for the state of emergency he also cited the growing Taliban insurgency in the country's northwest.

But the move backfired horribly. The country's lawyers took to the streets in widespread protests that eventually weakened Musharraf's government so much that he was forced to call new elections and step down.

A judge has said Musharraf's 2007 decision amounted to terrorism, which is why the case is now being heard before an anti-terrorism court. Such courts are closed to the media and the public.

Musharraf returned to Pakistan last month to make a political comeback and contest the May 11 election. But he was greeted with little popular support and was disqualified from running in the election. A judge on Thursday ordered his arrest.

That sparked a dramatic escape by Musharraf from court in a speeding vehicle after which he holed up in his heavily guarded house on the outskirts of Islamabad until he was taken into custody on Friday morning.

Musharraf seized control of Pakistan in a coup in 1999 when he was army chief and spent nearly a decade in power before being forced to step down in 2008. He returned despite Taliban death threats and a raft of legal challenges.

He also faces legal charges in connection with the 2007 assassination of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the 2006 death of a Baluch nationalist leader.

But it has been the case of the judges that has sparked the most contention since Musharraf's return - a reflection of the deep animosity many in the legal sphere still have for the former strongman.

His arrest is a significant act in a country where senior army officers have long seemed untouchable. The army is still considered the most powerful institution in Pakistan, but its aura of impunity has declined in recent years, especially in the face of an activist judiciary.

When Musharraf entered the court Saturday, he was surrounded by a phalanx of police and paramilitary Rangers. Pakistani lawyers chanted: "Whoever is a friend of Musharraf is a traitor," while supporters shouted: "Love live Musharraf!"

"These allegations are politically motivated, and I will fight them in the trial court, where the truth will eventually prevail," Musharraf said in a message posted on his Facebook page after his arrest.

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