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In an interim relief to the former military strongman Gen Pervez Musharraf (retd), the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday stopped the Special Court from announcing its verdict against him in a long-drawn-out high treason case.

The IHC order came in response to a petition filed by the Interior Ministry which had requested the court to set aside the Special Court's decision to announce its judgement in the high treason case on November 28 (today).

The IHC accepted the ministry's petition and stopped the Special Court from announcing the verdict. A similar petition filed by Musharraf was disposed of with the court issuing directions on it.

"For reasons to be recorded later, we allow writ petition [...] filed by the Ministry of Interior," the court said in its short order, setting aside the special court's November 19 decision to reserve its judgement in the case.

The IHC has directed the federal government to notify a new prosecutor or a team of prosecution in the treason case by Dec 5.

Besides, the court also directed the Special Court to fix a date "for affording a reasonable opportunity of hearing" to the notified prosecutor or prosecution team as well as the counsel appointed for Musharraf.

According to the short order, the Special Court is also "expected to take into consideration" the grounds raised in an application filed by Musharraf seeking his acquittal in the high treason case.

"The Special Court is expected to conclude the proceedings expeditiously having [regard] to the cardinal principles of fair trial," the order reads.

The IHC has also allowed Musharraf's counsel Barrister Salman Safdar to assist the counsel appointed for the former military ruler during the hearing, if he so wishes.

During the proceedings, a three-member larger IHC bench comprising its Chief Justice Athar Minallah, Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani asked Musharraf's counsel Salman Safdar to sit down as they were going to first hear the petition filed by the Interior Ministry.

"Is there an official notification about the formation of the Special Court?" Justice Minallah asked the government's lawyer, Additional Attorney General (AAG) Sajid Ilyas Bhatti, as the hearing began. On this, Bhatti responded in the affirmative.

Justice Minallah asked where Law Secretary Muhammad Khashih-ur-Rehman was. On Tuesday, the IHC had summoned the relevant record from the law secretary.

During the course of hearing, when told that Rehman was not present, the court expressed its displeasure. He was told to appear within half an hour along with the required record. When he arrived, the court expressed its displeasure, saying he should have been there on time.

"This is your attitude. The case starts at 12:30pm and you arrive at 1:30pm," remarked Justice Farooq.

Justice Minallah said as per the record, the Special Court had been formed correctly and enquired why the Interior Ministry had written that it was formed incorrectly in its petition.

"Our case is that the prosecution team that presented the final arguments is not legal," responded AAG Bhatti.

"You made a mistake and you will fix it. So what should we do?" asked Justice Farooq, adding: "You didn't tell the Special Court about all this [and] now that the verdict is about to be announced, you've come here."

On Monday, in a surprising move, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government sought deferment of the announcement of the verdict in the high treason case.

In a fresh petition that was said to be identical to an application filed by Musharraf's lawyer, the PTI government even 'disowned' the complaint filed by the previous government against him under the Article 6 (High Treason) and requested the IHC that "the Special Court be restrained from passing final judgement in the trial".

In the petition filed through its secretary in the IHC, the Interior Ministry stated that the Special Court's decision to reserve its verdict in the case is in violation of the Constitution because it was issued without giving the ministry the opportunity to notify a new prosecution team in the case and because the judgement is set to be passed without hearing the prosecution during the trial.

If Musharraf is found guilty, he could be sentenced to death or imprisonment for life. The high treason trial of Musharraf for imposing the state of emergency on November 3, 2007, started during the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government. He was booked in the treason case in December 2013. Musharraf was indicted on March 31, 2014, and the prosecution tabled the entire evidence before the Special Court in September the same year.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019

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