A Pakistani antiterrorism court acquitted five men of involvement in the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Thursday, while declaring former President Pervez Musharraf a fugitive from justice, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The court convicted and sentenced two senior police officers, who had been assigned to protect Bhutto, to 17 years in prison for negligence and facilitating disappearance of evidence.
Judge Asghar Ali read a shortened version of the verdict to a packed courtroom at the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, about 13 kilometers (8 miles) from where Bhutto was killed. A full version of the verdict is expected to be issued in the coming days, special prosecutor Khawaja Mohammad Imtiaz told reporters outside the court.
The verdict marks the conclusion of a trial that has run for more than nine years, running through eight judges and multiple public prosecutors. In 2013, Zulfiqar Ali, a special prosecutor in the case, was shot dead in an ambush on his car in the Pakistani capital Islamabad.
Bhutto, the popular head of the Pakistan People’s Party and a two-time prime minister, was killed in a gun and bomb attack on a campaign rally at a park in the northern Pakistani city of Rawalpindi on Dec. 27, 2007.
Her assassination had threatened to derail Pakistan’s transition to democracy after eight years of rule by Mr. Musharraf, a former army chief who ruled Pakistan since carrying out a military coup in 1999.
Mr. Musharraf was accused of not providing adequate security during Bhutto’s campaign rallies for the 2008 general elections. Following the assassination, the PPP, led by Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, swept to power.
Musharraf, who has been living in self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates since last year, could now have his property confiscated if he doesn’t present himself before authorities. No judgment has yet been made on his guilt or innocence in the case.
Farogh Naseem, the former president’s lawyer, said Musharraf would be appealing his designation as a fugitive. Musharraf is also facing sedition charges for the 1999 coup at a special tribunal.
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