Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been sentenced to death in absentia for high treason after a prolonged and contentious legal case.

Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 and ruled Pakistan until 2008. 

Musharraf was convicted on Tuesday by a special three-person court in Islamabad of violating the constitution by unlawfully declaring emergency rule while he was in power. His case had been ongoing since 2013. 

The death sentence was voted for by a 2-1 margin with one member of the court voting to convict the former general and president, but not voting for the death penalty. This is the first time in Pakistan’s history that an army chief has been tried and found guilty of treason. Under the constitution, high treason is a crime that carries the death penalty or life imprisonment.

The military, however, reacted strongly against the verdict by releasing a statement that the legal process “seems to have been ignored.” The court’s ruling has been “received with a lot of pain and anguish by rank and file of the Pakistan Armed Forces,” he continued.

“An ex-Army Chief, Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee and President of Pakistan, who has served the country for over 40 years, fought wars for the defense of the country can surely never be a traitor,” a statement said.

Coincidentally, the treason charges brought against Musharraf in 2013 were initiated by the man he deposed in 1999, Nawaz Sharif. Musharraf argued that the case against him was politically motivated and that his actions in 2007 were approved by the government and cabinet. But his arguments were turned down by the courts and he was accused of acting illegally.

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Back in 2007, he imposed emergency measures that would have kept him in power. This move sparked widespread protests. He came under more fire in December 2007 after the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf was allegedly part of the conspiracy to have Bhutto killed before the elections. He has always denied those charges.

Following the court’s Tuesday decision, Bhutto’s son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari tweeted: “Democracy is the best revenge.”

Hamid Ali Khan, a senior Supreme Court lawyer, said that this landmark decision was long overdue. “For the first time in the history of Pakistan … a military dictator has been punished by a court of law,” he said.

In early 2008, as his allies were crushed in February’s elections, Musharraf stepped down to avoid impeachment.

He went into self-imposed exile in Dubai and then returned to contest the 2013 elections. But he was denied by the courts from taking part in the elections and from leaving the country as the barrage of legal cases against him was mounting. His travel ban was lifted in 2016, and he’s been living in Dubai ever since seeking medical treatment.

Musharraf appeared in a video from a hospital bed a week ago complaining of blackouts and dizziness, calling the treason charges against him as “baseless.” “I think this case is baseless, they are not listening to me and they are not listening to my lawyer… it is a big injustice,” he said.

Musharraf, who had a penchant for cigars and whiskey, was a staunch ally to the United States in the Global War on Terror. But since the United Arab Emirates has no extradition treaty with Pakistan, the general is not expected to be going back soon.

He does retain the right to petition the Supreme Court for an appeal and his lawyers are preparing to do exactly that: “Musharraf today sent me a message, saying he is ready to come to Pakistan but his doctors are not allowing him to travel,” Akhtar Shah, Musharraf’s ex-lawyer, told the press after the verdict. He added that Musharraf offered to give a statement to the court via a video-taped connection, but his request was denied.

And there is always the chance that the President can issue a pardon for Musharraf — although that has been done very sparingly in the past. The current Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, had been working behind the scenes to ensure that the court didn’t rule on this case. 

Pakistan’s Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said that Prime Minister Khan’s government would “review in detail” the verdict before commenting on it. Khan has had a good relationship with the military and this statement will no doubt be welcomed by the generals, who have frequently been power brokers in the country.