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Pakistani Opposition Lawmaker Gets 23 Years Jail Time for 'Defaming Army' - 2004-04-12

A Pakistani court has sentenced a key opposition leader and lawmaker to 23 years in prison for defaming the army and other charges. The case against opposition politician Javed Hashmi stems from his publication of a letter in which army officers allegedly criticized Pakistan's president and military chief, General Pervez Musharraf.

Mr. Hashmi made the letter public late last year at a news conference, and was arrested outside Parliament just days later.

He was convicted on seven counts, including inciting army mutiny and forgery, as well as defaming the military.

The case sparked fierce protests from opposition parties, who said President Musharraf is suppressing legitimate criticism and efforts to restore democracy in Pakistan.

Ehsan Iqbal, a senior member of Mr. Hashmi's party, says the sentence shows the judiciary is under the control of the president.

"I think it is both a mockery of justice and democracy in Pakistan," he said. "The [lack of] independence of the judiciary will be exposed with this case, but such tactics will not stop the democratic forces from struggling for restoration of democracy and for ensuring the supremacy of Parliament in Pakistan."

The government denies military officers wrote the letter in question, and says Mr. Hashmi was trying to defame President Musharraf. The opposition leader can appeal the sentence to a higher court.

Mr. Hashmi is the acting head of the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who President Musharraf deposed in a military coup in 1999.

Mr. Sharif is in exile in Saudi Arabia.