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CNN (File photo) / Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf arrives at court in Islamabad in April 2013.
A court in Pakistan on Thursday named Pervez Musharraf, the country’s former President and army chief, a fugitive from justice in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed while campaigning in 2007.
But the court’s decision to drop charges against five members of the Pakistani Taliban linked to the killing has sparked anger from some supporters of Bhutto.
The court ordered Musharraf’s property to be seized in what his attorney, Faisal Chaudhary, described as a “disappointing and a flawed judgement.”
Musharraf was indicted in 2013 on charges of murder, criminal conspiracy to murder and facilitation of murder, but his health problems delayed the case. He was allowed to leave the country to seek treatment in 2016.
Musharraf has lived in self-imposed exile in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, since then.
Sen. Farogh Naseem, a legal expert and former counsel to Musharraf, dismissed the court’s action, telling CNN it was “not a verdict against Gen. Musharraf since his case has not proceeded against him or in his favor as he is not in the country.”
On Thursday, the court sentenced two senior police officers, Saud Aziz and Khurram Shahzad, to 17 years in prison. They were among seven men indicted for conspiracy to commit murder in 2011.
The two officials were accused of security breaches and covering up evidence by hosing down the crime scene.
At the specially adjourned Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi, judges also dismissed charges against five members of the Pakistani Taliban. The group, which the United States has designated as a foreign terrorist organisation, had previously been linked to Bhutto’s death.
The court cited a lack of evidence linking the men to the crime.
Their release sparked anger among supporters of Bhutto. Her son Bilawal tweeted that Thursday’s decision was “disappointing and unacceptable” and described the men as “terrorists.”
Sen. Sherry Rehman, a member of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, told CNN that while the police officers had been convicted and “there is a tightening of the circle around Gen. Musharraf, this is not enough.”
She described the court’s decision to drop charges against the Taliban members as “a shock to our party.”
“Benazir was more than just a party; she meant so much to the Pakistani people,” said Rehman, who was a close friend of the late prime minister’s.
“This verdict is disrespectful to her legacy. I was there when the evidence was washed away, when the authorities botched the investigation. The People’s Party has trusted and respected the justice system, but this time we will be weighing our legal options with regards to this verdict.”
Thursday’s sentencing of the two officers came almost 10 years after the death of Bhutto, Pakistan’s first female prime minister.
She had returned from a self-imposed, eight-year exile to run in the country’s general elections two months before her assassination and already had escaped one attempt on her life.
She was killed in December 2007 by a 15-year-old suicide bomber while campaigning in Rawalpindi, the seat of the country’s military.
A 2010 UN report found a “range of government officials failed profoundly in their efforts first to protect Ms. Bhutto, and second to investigate with vigor all those responsible for her murder, not only in the execution of the attack, but also in its conception, planning and financing.”
Following Bhutto’s death, her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, was sworn in as President in 2008 and served until 2013.Source: CNN