Pakistani’s Face Treason Death Penelty For Leaflets

Times Online
Three Pakistani politicians and a union leader were charged with treason today for making anti-government speeches in the southern port city of Karachi, a court official said.

The men were the first to be reported charged with treason, which carries a maximum sentence of death, since President Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended Pakistan’s constitution at the weekend. Eight lawyers were also being sought in Karachi for allegedly distributing anti-Musharraf leaflets.

The four in custody – three from small left-wing political parties and a union leader – were arrested Monday after making speeches against General Musharraf at the Karachi Press Club during a meeting of civil society groups about how best to protest the emergency.

They were interrogated by police before being brought to court and formally charged today, said a court official, who did not want to be named.

Two of the men belonged to the National Party, whose spokesman, Jan Buledi, confirmed the treason charges.

Meanwhile, General Musharraf’s attorney-general said that the Government would hold elections in February and lift the state of emergency within one or two months.

The statement came after President Bush telephoned General Musharraf for the first time since Saturday’s declaration of emergency rule to urge him to keep to January’s original election timetable and quit as army chief.

“Elections will be held in February, it has been decided,” Malik Mohammad Qayyum, the attorney-general, told AFP. “The emergency will be lifted in one or two months.”

The military ruler is also under pressure from the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who has pledged to rally supporters in Rawalpindi tomorrow and stage a “long march” next week if he does not restore the constitution and hold polls.

Officials had given warning that the vote, seen as the key step in nuclear-armed Pakistan’s transition to civilian democracy, could be delayed by up to a year, although the government said it wanted them held as soon as possible.

General Musharraf imposed the state of emergency because what he said was growing Islamic militancy and an interfering judiciary. He suspended the constitution, sacked the chief justice and clamped curbs on the media.

Meanwhile police cautioned that suicide bombers had infiltrated Rawalpindi, a garrison town near Islamabad that has been hit by several recent blasts, ahead of Ms Bhutto’s protest. “We have very specific intelligence reports that up to eight suicide bombers have entered Rawalpindi,” said the city’s police chief, Saud Aziz. “Naturally they will target big public meetings like what you have seen in Karachi.”

Twin suicide bombings killed 139 people in Karachi on October 18 at Ms Bhutto’s homecoming parade after eight years in self-imposed exile. Mr Aziz said police would prevent Bhutto staging the rally, and her Pakistan People’s Party said that around 400 of its activists had been picked up overnight across Punjab province, Pakistan’s political heartland.

“Police have launched a crackdown against our party workers at village, town and city level,” it Punjab provincial secretary general, Ghulam Abbas, told AFP.

Police confirmed up to 50 arrests, but a government official denied that any crackdown had been ordered against the party.

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