Pakistan's former dictator General Pervez Musharraf was on Tuesday sentenced to death in absentia in the high treason case for subverting the Constitution in 2007, drawing a sharp reaction from the powerful military which has ruled the coup-prone country for nearly half its 72-year history.
A three-member bench of the special court, headed by Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth, pronounced the verdict in the landmark case launched in 2013 against the former Pakistan Army chief by the previous government of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
The court found the ailing 76-year-old retired General, now living in Dubai on self-exile, guilty of high treason by abrogating the Constitution and imposing extra-constitutional emergency in Pakistan in November 2007.
By handing him the death sentence, the verdict made him the first military ruler to receive the capital punishment in Pakistan's history.
He also imprisoned several judges and issued provisional constitutional orders to safeguard his dictatorship. He was convicted in 2014 but later went to Dubai in 2016, stalling the progress in the high-profile case.
Musharraf is the first military ruler convicted for subverting the Constitution.
Though he was not the first General to do so.
Three Pakistan Army chiefs including Gen Ayub Khan, Gen Yahya Khan and Gen Zia-ul-Haq also abrogated the Constitution but never faced any court.
Musharraf's sentencing is highly significant moment in Pakistan where the powerful military has ruled the country for nearly half of its 72-year history.
His sentencing provoked the Pakistan Army to swiftly condemn the judgement.
"An ex-Army Chief, Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee and President of Pakistan, who has served the country for over 40 years, fought wars for the defense of the country can surely never be a traitor," Army spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said in a statement.
"The due legal process seems to have been ignored including constitution of special court, denial of fundamental right of self-defence, undertaking individual specific proceedings and concluding the case in haste," he said.
"Armed Forces of Pakistan expect that justice will be dispensed in line with Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan," Ghafoor said.
Earlier, Justice Seth, in a short verdict, announced that the court found that Musharraf was guilty of violating Article 6 of the Constitution that says that suspending the Constitution was an act of treason.
"Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or hold in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance the Constitution by use of force or show force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason,” states Article 6.
According to the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973, the punishment for high treason is death or lifetime imprisonment.
The tribunal issued 2-1 split verdict in the case which lingered for about six years. It said that the detailed judgement would be issued in two days.
Musharraf can file appeal against the judgment within 30 days. But he would have to return to Pakistan for it unless allowed by the higher court.
According to media reports, Musharraf, who is undergoing treatment in Dubai, expressed regret at the judgment and announced to give detailed response after consulting his lawyers.
Reacting to the judgement, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information, Firdous Ashiq Awan said that government would respond to the judgment on return of Prime Minister Imran Khan from abroad (Switzerland).
"We will see the detailed judgment and give response after Prime Minister comes back," she told the media.
Musharraf seized power by ousting then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a 1999 bloodless coup. He has also served as Pakistan's president from 2001 to 2008.
Before issuing the verdict, the court rejected a plea by the prosecutors to delay the verdict.
The former Army chief left for Dubai for medical treatment in March 2016 and has not returned since, citing security and health reasons.
The special court -- comprising Justice Seth, Justice Nazar Akbar of the Sindh High Court (SHC) and Justice Shahid Karim of the Lahore High Court (LHC)-- announced the verdict it had reserved on November 19.
Musharraf, apparently suffering from amyloidosis, was admitted to a hospital in Dubai following deterioration of his health earlier this month.
The special court's verdict on Musharraf came despite an earlier Islamabad high court (IHC) order stopping it from issuing the judgement.
The IHC's order had come on November 27, a day before the special court was set to announce its verdict.
The new prosecution team for the government appeared before the special court on December 5 after which it fixed December 17 as the date to announce the verdict.
At the hearing, Musharraf's counsel said his client's health was not well enough for him to appear before the court.
But Justice Seth said that if he is unable to defend his client, it means that his arguments have concluded.
Justice Akbar also said that the former president had wasted six opportunities to record his statement.
On Saturday, Musharraf filed a plea and asked the LHC to stay the trial at the special court until his earlier petition pending adjudication by the high court is decided.
Shortly before the special court's verdict, the Lahore High Court recommended a full-bench hearing of Musharraf's plea for stay in the trial.