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US Expresses Concern Over Jailed Pakistani Opposition Leader - 2004-04-14

The United States expressed concern Tuesday over the conviction and jailing of Pakistani opposition leader Makdoom Javed Hashmi on sedition charges. It complained about the conduct of his trial and urged that the appeal of the case be conducted more transparently.

The Bush administration, in unusual criticism of its Pakistani ally, is criticizing the conduct of the sedition trial of the opposition politician and calling on Pakistan to administer justice "in a fair and transparent manner" in accordance with its own laws and international norms.

The U.S. comments followed Monday's conviction of Mr. Hashmi, leader of the multi-party Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, on seven criminal charges including treason and inciting mutiny in the armed forces. A judge in Rawalpindi sentenced Mr. Hashmi to a total of 23 years in prison, though the jail terms - the longest of which is seven years - are to be served concurrently.

The opposition figure, a minister in the government of ousted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was arrested last October for releasing a letter said to have been written by disgruntled military officers critical of the 1999 coup by the now-President Pervez Musharraf and his decision to side with the United States in the war on terrorism. He was held in secret detention for a number of weeks before being formally charged.

In a written statement volunteered to reporters, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted complaints by Mr. Hashmi's family and lawyer about inadequate access to him in the preparation of his defense, and the lack of transparency in the trial itself. He said U.S. officials had repeatedly expressed concerns to Pakistani officials that the case be handled fairly and transparently with due regards for his rights.

The spokesman said the United States regrets the closed nature of the proceedings against him so far, and hopes that the appeals process will be more open.

Pakistani opposition parties, local human rights groups, and the European Union have also criticized the detention and trial of Mr. Hashmi.

A spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League, of which Mr. Hasmi is acting president, called the trial result "the darkest chapter in Pakistan's judicial history", and vowed to appeal the sentence.