Pakistan court overturns death penalty for ex-president

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Mohammad Azhar Siddique, center, a lawyer for former Pakistani President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and other lawyers make a victory sign after a court decision, in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. The Pakistani court Monday overturned a death sentence given to the country's ailing former dictator, saying a special court that last month convicted and sentenced Musharraf had been formed in violation of the law. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

LAHORE – A Pakistani court on Monday overturned the death sentence given to the country's ex-military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, a former close U.S. ally in the war against terror.

The Lahore High Court ruled that the special tribunal formed to try the ex-president was not legal. Musharraf's defense team had petitioned the high court following the tribunal's conviction last December that the former army general was guilty of imposing emergency laws in violation of the constitution during his rule.

Musharraf seized power in 1999 when he ousted the elected government of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a military coup. Eight years later, he imposed emergency rule and placed several key judges under house arrest. The move drew nationwide condemnation and protests that led to his resignation in 2008.

“The death sentence given to Pervez Musharraf stands quashed after today's court order," Pakistani prosecutor Ishtiaq Khan told reporters.

Musharraf's lawyer Azhar Sadique hailed the court's verdict, but said “let us see how government reacts." He claimed that Musharraf was a political target and had been falsely charged with treason by the government in 2014 after former premier Sharif returned to power.

Musharraf made Pakistan a key ally of the United States in its war on terror following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He allowed NATO to transport military equipment to land-locked Afghanistan through Pakistan and the U.S. to use Pakistan's air bases for logistic support.

The conviction and death sentence handed down to Musharraf in December was heavily criticized by Pakistan's powerful military and the ex-ruler's All Pakistan Muslim League opposition party.

On Monday, Musharraf told Pakistan's ARY news channel that he was “happy” about the hearing's outcome.