- Pervez Musharraf faces five treason charges, including imposing emergency rule in 2007
- The former army chief, who ruled until 2008, pleaded not guilty to all five
- Musharraf says he took action to stabilize the country and fight rising Islamist extremism
- High treason carries the death penalty or life imprisonment
A Special Court in Pakistan has charged former military ruler Pervez Musharraf with high treason -- a crime that carries the death penalty or life imprisonment.
Musharraf, who ruled the country following a 1999 coup until 2008, faced a total of five charges during the hearing at the court in Islamabad Monday, including three counts of subverting, suspending and changing the country's constitution, sacking Pakistan's chief justice and imposing emergency rule. He pleaded "not guilty" to each of the charges.
In an address to the court, the former president denied he was a traitor, and instead claimed Pakistan "prospered and grew" under his tenure.
Monday's hearing took place amid tight security, with thousands of police and security forces lining the route to the court. In an unexpected twist, the retired army general was represented by a new lawyer, with no reason yet given for the change.
Web of court cases
Musharraf went into self-imposed exile in 2008, in London and more recently in Dubai, after standing down as president. He returned to Pakistan last year with the aim of running in the country's national elections. But his plans unraveled as he became entangled in a web of court cases relating to his time in power.
In 2007, Musharraf declared a state of emergency, suspended Pakistan's constitution, replaced the chief judge and blacked out independent TV outlets.
Musharraf said he did so to stabilize the country and to fight rising Islamist extremism. The action drew sharp criticism from the United States and democracy advocates. Pakistanis openly called for his removal.
Under pressure from the West, Musharraf later lifted the state of emergency and called elections in which his party fared badly.
Musharraf stepped down in August 2008 after the governing coalition began taking steps to impeach him. Prosecutors say Musharraf violated Pakistan's constitution by imposing the state of emergency.
In January, Musharraf was unable to attend another court hearing after being hospitalized. Asiya Ishaq, a supporter and leader of the All Pakistan Muslim League, said the former president had been feeling pressure in his chest and was not well. Pakistan media has reported he has been receiving treatment for high blood pressure.
Musharraf is also on an "exit control list" in Pakistan, which prevents him leaving the country, although Akram Shaikh, the prosecutor in the case, said Monday that if the court allows the 70-year old to travel abroad then he has no objection. Pakistan media has reported that Musharraf's mother is currently in critical condition in a hospital in the UAE, and that he has requested permission to visit her.