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Pakistan Opposition Leader Receives Jail Sentence of 23 Years for Treason

By Salman Masood

The New York Times -- ISLAMABAD, Pakistan

A Pakistani judge sentenced the leader of the country’s main opposition political alliance to prison on Monday after he was convicted of treason and inciting mutiny in the armed forces, state-run news organizations reported.

The man, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, was arrested last October after he released a letter that was represented as having been written by disgruntled military officers who were critical of the country’s military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The letter called for putting the country’s senior military leaders on trial for seizing power in a coup in 1999 and criticized Musharraf’s decision to side with the United States in its effort to prevent terrorism.

The sentence was issued in the city of Rawalpindi by a judge who found Hashmi guilty on all seven charges filed against him and sentenced him to a total of 23 years in prison, state-run media reported. But Hashmi will serve his seven sentences concurrently. The longest sentence is seven years.

While Hashmi and his aides maintained that the two-page, unsigned letter was genuine, the government dismissed it as a fake.

Hashmi, a member of Parliament, is the leader of the opposition Alliance for Restoration of Democracy and the acting president of a faction of the Pakistan Muslim League political party. The party’s longtime leader is Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister who was ousted by Musharraf in the 1999 coup and who lives in exile.

Intelligence agents arrested Hashmi, one of Musharraf’s most outspoken critics, on Oct. 29 outside a housing complex for members of Parliament in Islamabad, relatives said. After being held in secret detention for weeks, he was charged with defaming the government and the army, incitement to mutiny and using forged documents.

Siddiqul Farooq, the spokesperson for Pakistan Muslim League, said in a telephone interview that the sentence was “the blackest chapter in Pakistan’s judicial history” and an “assassination of justice.”

“It has been proved that Pakistani courts are in the clutches of the dictatorial military regime led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf,” he said.

Opposition political parties, Pakistani human rights groups and the European Union have condemned the detention and trial of Hashmi. Last November, Nancy Powell, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, issued a statement urging the Pakistani authorities to handle the case in a fair and open manner with regard to fundamental rights.

Opposition political parties have repeatedly staged walkouts in Parliament and demanded that the government release Hashmi. Government officials refused, calling Hashmi’s actions a threat to national security.