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Verdict Expected Monday in Trial of Pakistan Opposition Leader

A high court in Pakistan is expected to announce its verdict Monday in the case against an important opposition politician accused of defaming the country's army and inciting it to mutiny. But, party leaders and family members are condemning the very basis of the charges.

The detained politician, Javed Hashmi, heads the multi-party opposition Alliance for Restoration of Democracy. He was arrested in Islamabad on October 29 for publicly reading a letter critical of President General Pervez Musharraf's policies, particularly his decision to join the U.S. anti-terrorism war.

Mr. Hashmi says some dissenting army officers wrote the unsigned letter. The government says the opposition leader forged the letter, and that it defamed the Pakistan army and incited it to revolt.

Mr. Hashmi is the senior leader of a party representing former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom President Musharraf ousted in a 1999 military coup. Party leaders and lawyers say the government brought the case against Mr. Hashmi to stop the opposition's campaign to force President Musharraf to quit the presidency and army.

Nisar Ali Khan is a senior leader and a lawmaker from Mr. Hashmi's political party.

"Unfortunately up to this moment of time, we have had absolutely no access to Mr. Javed Hashmi, neither the party, nor the family, nor in fact the lawyers," he said. "We have only read from the newspapers the statement of Mr. Javed Hashmi, which he made before the court in which he has accused his captors of inflicting torture on him."

Mr. Khan says his party is planning to approach international human rights groups to urge them to ensure a fair trial for their party leader.

Pakistani human rights groups and the European Union have criticized Mr. Hashmi's detention. On Thursday, in a statement, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Nancy Powell, urged Pakistani authorities to handle the case in a fair and transparent manner with regard for fundamental rights.

Opposition politicians maintain that Mr. Hashmi's arrest also violates the constitutional immunity normally extended to members of parliament.

The case against Mr. Hashmi is being heard by a high court in the city of Rawalpindi. Prosecutors and defense lawyers have concluded their initial arguments and the court is expected to give its judgment on Monday.