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Pakistan: Jail term for key critic

From CNN Producer Syed Mohsin Naqvi

Hashmi has been an outspoken critic of President Musharraf.

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Pervez Musharraf
Javed Hashmi

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Javed Hashmi, leader of the multi-party alliance against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, has been sentenced to 23 years in prison on charges of sedition.

The decision by the district and session judge of Islamabad immediately sparked protests Monday.

Pervaik Malik, the top Pakistani opposition leader and a fellow member of parliament, called for Musharraf's resignation and said there would be demonstrations throughout the country beginning Tuesday.

Hashmi was arrested on October 29 on charges of defaming the government and the army.

The charges came after Hashmi, a member of parliament, circulated a letter allegedly written by an army officer opposing the role of the army in national politics.

Hashmi released the letter at a news conference inside the parliament building.

Hashmi is president of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League and a joint opposition alliance comprising 15 political parties.

He has been one of Musharraf's most outspoken critics ever since the military leader ousted former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup in October 1999.

Hashmi's trial was held in Rawalpindi Prison and journalists were not allowed to cover the proceedings.

After word of Hashmi's sentence, Malik called it a "black day" in Pakistan's history.

He demanded Musharraf resign immediately and give power "back to the people" of Pakistan.

Malik said beginning Tuesday the joint opposition will launch protests against the decision both inside the parliament and throughout Pakistan.

Hashmi's family members plan to appeal to Pakistan's High Court to overturn the decision.

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