Musharraf charged with Bhutto assassination
Updated: 2013-08-21 07:57
Lawyer says ex-leader's indictment for 2007 suicide bombing 'fabricated'
A Pakistani court on Tuesday indicted former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf on murder charges in connection with the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, deepening the fall of a once-powerful figure who returned to the country this year to make a political comeback.
The decision by a court in Rawalpindi marks the first time Musharraf, or any former army chief in Pakistan, has been charged with a crime.
The indictment of the army chief who seized power in a 1999 coup - once Pakistan's most powerful man - was almost an unthinkable event in this country ruled by the military for half of its 66-year history.
Bhutto died in a suicide gun and bomb attack in December 2007 after a campaign rally in Rawalpindi city, not far from the heavily guarded courtroom where the charges were read out on Tuesday.
"He should be tried," the public prosecutor, Mohammad Azhar, told reporters after a brief hearing during which the three charges of murder, conspiracy to murder and facilitation of murder were read out to Musharraf.
He is currently under house arrest in connection with one of the cases against him.
The case has shattered an unwritten rule that the top military officials are untouchable as the South Asian country tries to shake off the legacy of decades of military rule under the new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
It was Musharraf who toppled Sharif's government in the 1999 coup, and memories of that time are still fresh in the current administration. Sharif was sentenced to a life in jail by Musharraf but was eventually allowed to go into exile.
Security was tight in Rawalpindi - the seat of Pakistan's military headquarters - after a previous hearing on Aug 6 was delayed due to threats to Musharraf's life. The Pakistani Taliban have on many occasions threatened to kill him.
Hundreds of police were deployed along the main road leading to the court as well as on rooftops as Musharraf's car arrived. Journalists were not allowed in the courtroom for the hearing, which lasted about 20 minutes.
The former army, who turned 70 on Aug 11, commando appeared in person during the brief morning hearing on Tuesday and pleaded not guilty, said Afshan Adil, a member of Musharraf's legal team.
"All the cases against Musharraf are fabricated. He denied all the charges," said the lawyer. The next hearing was set for Aug 27.