Friday, April 7, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Life term for Nawaz Sharif
Brother, five others acquitted

KARACHI, April 6 (PTI) — Six months after being toppled by the Army, Pakistan’s deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was today spared death penalty but awarded life imprisonment for 25 years on being held guilty of hijacking and terrorism by a special court here.

Judge Rehmet Hussain Jaffri of anti-terrorism court also ordered confiscation of entire property of the ousted premier, who heard the verdict with grim face in the jam-packed court room and later told his weeping relatives, including his wife Ms Kulsoom and two daughters, to have faith in God.

The court, however, acquitted Sharif’s high-profile brother and former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz and five others of all charges.

FILE - Nawaz Sharif, right, Pakistan's deposed Prime Minister, and his brother Shahbaz Sharif wave to supporters outside the anti-terrorist court in Karachi, Pakistan, in this December 4, 1999, file photo. — AP/PTI

The prosecution had demanded death penalty for all accused on charges of hijacking, terrorism, kidnapping and attempted murder for not allowing a PIA flight carrying Army Chief Gen Pervez Musharraf to land at Karachi airport on October 12 last, the day of the coup.

The court, which acquitted Sharif of kidnapping and attempted murder charges, ordered him to pay a compensation of Rs 20 lakh to the 198 passengers and crew of the PIA flight and fined him an additional Rs 10 lakh.

In case of non-payment of the fine, the court ordered further imprisonment for four years.

The judge, in his 157-page verdict delivered amidst tight security, said the charge of hijacking had been proved against Sharif.

“The conspiracy started when Nawaz Sharif ordered Aminullah Chaudhry (former Civil Aviation Chief, who turned approver) to stop the plane from landing. Until then the control tower was working lawfully, but after the illegal order to prevent the plane from landing it became a hijacking”, the judge said.

This is the second time that an author of peace initiated with India has been punished in Pakistan under military dispensation. Earlier Z.A. Bhutto, who had signed the historic Simla Agreement, was hanged in 1979 for allegedly plotting to kill a political rival.

As Jaffri read out the verdict, Sharif’s family members, including his wife Mr Kulsoom, wept and shouted, “Long live Nawaz Sharif.”

Sharif, who heard the verdict with a grim face, told his family members in the courtroom later to have faith in god and hoped that things would be all right.

“God willing, we will come out this difficult time”, Sharif’s nephew Suleman Shahbaz quoted him as saying. Sharif’s lawyer Khawaja Sultan Ahmad said that he would appeal against the verdict in the Sindh High Court within the stipulated seven days’ time.

Chief Public Prosecutor Raja Qureshi, who had demanded death penalty, said he would also appeal the high court against the lesser punishment of life imprisonment.

Asked if he was satisfied with the verdict, Mr Ahmad told PTI, “I am satisfied to the extent we could not expect more... we expected a clean acquittal. Because in the given circumstances, six out of seven are not found guilty. It’s very difficult to convict the seventh. Still it is a decision of convenience.

Mr Qureshi said he would be filing an appeal after going through the 157-page judgement within the stipulated period.

The prosecution said it would appeal against Sharif’s acquittal on the other charges.

Sharif has the right of appeal against the sentence, which, if carried out fully, effectively ends his political career.

“Obviously we are going to file an appeal within seven days,’’ Haleem Siddiqi, a leading member of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, told reporters.

The trial, 21 years after a previous military ruler, General Zia-ul-Haq, ordered the execution of Pakistan’s first elected Prime Minister, Bhutto, focused world attention on the proceedings in an anti-terrorism court established by Sharif.

Pakistan has been cold-shouldered by much of the western world since the army take-over but says it was a desperate measure to rescue Pakistan from collapse.

The Media Adviser of the military-led government, Mr Javed Jabbar, told reporters: “This has been possibly the most transparent trial in the history of the country.

“This humble opinion is a manifestation of the independence of the judiciary in Pakistan’’, he added.

The charges arise from October 12 when an aircraft carrying then Army Chief Gen Pervez Musharraf to Karachi was briefly prevented from landing. The army seized power that night and installed General Musharraf as the country’s military leader.

US President Bill Clinton appealed for clemency for Sharif during a six-hour visit to Islamabad last month and General Musharraf, Chief Executive of the military-led government, has consistently said he is not a vindictive man.

But General Musharraf also said it was up to the court to decide, stressing that the court was independent.

General Musharraf says he only seized power to prevent the country sliding further into chaos. At pains to rescue Pakistan from further political isolation after the army coup, he says he has only suspended the Constitution and not imposed full martial law.


Verdict ‘engineered’

KARACHI, April 6 (AFP, Reuters) — Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif today said the verdict finding him guilty of hijacking and terrorism was “engineered”.

“This is most definitely an engineered verdict”, he said in a written response to questions from AFP after being sentenced to life imprisonment.

“I have full faith in the almighty and the grace of God all this will be behind us”, he said.

The questions were delivered to Mr Sharif by a relative who said the ousted Prime Minister wrote the answers while still inside the court after the verdict was delivered.

Mr Sharif said the tactics used against him would neither “serve the cause of the future (of the country) nor in any way legitimise this illegal government”.

“I want to let the people know that I have faith in God and have been encouraged by the love and support of the people”, he said.

The wife of ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said today that his conviction and two life sentences were “engineered”, and that the country’s military rulers were too scared to release him.

“It was an engineered verdict. Pervez Musharraf could not take the risk by freeing Nawaz,” Ms Kulsoom Nawaz told reporters after the verdict.

“How could the lion be freed after it was confined to a cage,’’ she said, hinting at Sharif’s election symbol in the 1997 poll in which he won a landslide victory.

Officials of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League Party told mediapersons that the judgement was an “injustice”.

LONDON: Mr Nawaz Sharif will appeal against a life prison sentence for terrorism and hijacking, his son Hasan said today.

Mr Hasan Sharif told BBC radio that the battle had just begun to overturn the ruling against his father.

“We were all hoping for a total acquittal ...I was disappointed to hear the life sentence, but we are still very optimistic - the fight has just begun,’’ Mr Sharif said.

He said his father would have several rights to appeal, to both the high court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

“If we go to the high court I think that would resolve in the next 30 days,’’ he said.

Sharif’s wife Kulsoom Nawaz, and several Sharif supporters yelled angrily inside the court when the verdict was announced.

Mr Sharif and his co-accused denied all charges, saying they were concocted to cover up the military coup.

Mr Sharif’s son said he was in Britain because he feared for his safety if he returned to Pakistan.

“I would love to see both parents but unfortunately I have not been promised to get back with safe passage, they would arrest me at the airport,’’ he said.

He said his mother was in Pakistan, but he had not yet managed to contact her. “I am myself desperately trying to reach my mother or anybody in my family. But unfortunately the lines are busy.’’

Asked whether he would advise his father’s supporters to remain calm, he said: “I think that is best to be decided and handled by my mother and officials of my father’s party, and my father himself.’’


India silent
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, April 6 — India today maintained strict silence on developments in neighbouring Pakistan where former premier Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to life.

When asked, about a comment on Mr Sharif’s life imprisonment, a spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs said “we have nothing to say”.

While New Delhi has been opposed the resumption of a dialogue with the argument that Islamabad must stop its sponsorship of cross-border terrorism, but in reality the Vajpayee government has been opposed to the military regime in Pakistan.

India’s silence on Mr Sharif’s life imprisonment is understandable as New Delhi’s comment would only strengthen the fundamentalist forces in Pakistan. Now with the life sentence to the former Prime Minister and the release of his younger brother, Mr Shahbaz Sharif, the struggle between the armed forces and the democratic forces has sharpened.

The former Prime Minister would gain public sympathy in coming months.


US pleased over verdict

WASHINGTON, April 6 (Reuters) — The White House today said it was pleased ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was spared the death penalty and called for a fair appeals process for his conviction.

A Karachi Anti-Terrorism Court found Sharif guilty of terrorism and hijacking and sentenced him to two life sentences, which mean a 25-year prison term and an apparent end to Sharif’s political career.

Nawaz Sharif was found guilty of trying to stop the landing in Karachi of an aircraft carrying then Army Chief Gen Pervez Musharraf last October 12.

Gen Musharraf promptly overthrew Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup. President Bill Clinton appealed to Gen Musharraf to spare Sharif from the death penalty during a brief visit to Islamabad on March 25.

Meanwhile, Britain today reacted cautiously to the sentencing of Pakistan’s deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, saying “we will not take a final view until the judicial process is exhausted”.

“Nawaz Sharif’s lawyers have said they will appeal. We will watch the appeal process closely, together with our international partners,” British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in a statement after Sharif was sentenced to life imprisonment by an anti-terrorism court in Karachi.Back

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