Pakistani Judge: Sharif Illegally Stopped Landing of Musharraf's Plane
A top Pakistani judge observed Wednesday that ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif committed a crime in obstructing the landing of an aircraft carrying then-army chief General Pervez Musharraf and 200 others ahead of the October 1999 coup.
"If the then-army chief was alone in the plane it would have been justified but there were 198 passengers also in the flight when the landing was obstructed, endangering their lives," Syed Saeed Ashhad, chief justice of the Sindh High Court said.
Ashhad is heading a three-judge bench hearing Sharif's appeal against a conviction for hijacking and terrorism for which he received a life sentence in April from Karachi's anti-terrorism court.
The prosecution also filed an appeal, seeking the death penalty for Sharif and a reversal of the acquittal of his six co-accused, including Sharif's brother Shahbaz.
Sharif had committed "illegality" by not allowing the plane to land, hours after he had sacked General Musharraf on October 12, the judge observed.
The plane finally landed after the army took control of the airport on the orders of Musharraf who had Sharif arrested in a military coup the same night.
Sharif's lawyer Azizullah Sheikh argued the former prime minister had not hijacked the plane but it was the army and General Musharraf who should be held responsible for keeping the plane in air for 48 minutes.
"Nawaz Sharif was not holding the plane or the air traffic control tower at the Karachi airport after 7.00 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time. It was in the control of the army as admitted by the prosecutor's key witness, Aminullah Choudhary," Sheikh said.
"You have admitted in your arguments that the prime minister ordered the plane not be allowed landing in Pakistan," justice Ashhad countered.
"You are only giving observations by taking half of my arguments," Sheikh replied and added Sharif's "clear instructions at 6.15 p.m were to allow the plane to land" at the nearby Nawabshah airport and then fly out to Muscat, Oman.
Sheikh insisted that "witnesses produced by the prosecution in the case are not reliable as many of them have been under pressure."
Sharif can not be convicted or hanged on the basis of such "unreliable" witnesses, he said.
"There has to be some material or evidence to prove that he had hijacked the plane," he argued.
The hearing will continue on Thursday -- KARACHI (AFP)
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