Courage Under Fire
Sharif, wife are stoic as court hands him life sentence
By HANNAH BLOCH
One blink: That was former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's only reaction as he was sentenced to life imprisonment in Karachi on Thursday on charges of hijacking and terrorism. Sharif otherwise remained expressionless as loud cries of "Long Live Nawaz Sharif" in Urdu and "Allah-hu-Akbar" (God is great) pierced the courtroom from his family and friends and those of his six codefendants. It was the women who led the cries.
And it all lasted a mere 10 minutes: Judge Rehmat Hussain Jafri, balding and bespectacled, spoke in a quiet, measured tone as he acquitted Sharif's codefendants of the four charges they had each faced--among them attempted murder and kidnapping. There was also nothing dramatic in the judge's delivery when he sentenced Sharif. (Sharif also received two fines totaling $19,000 and the judge ordered him to forfeit all his property)
(The charges, you'll recall, stemmed from the prosecution's assertion that Sharif prevented an aircraft carrying General Pervez Musharraf, now the country's military leader, and others from landing although it was running low on fuel. That was on October 12, the day Musharraf took charge of the country after landing safely).
Journalists, myself included, had begun showing up at the court from 7 a.m. The defendants' family members were not too far behind. Many of the women were wearing sunglasses.
Next to arrive were the defendants' themselves, in a long convoy of armored personnel carriers. A helicopter also landed nearby, surprising many, and leading some journalists to joke that Sharif would be sentenced to fly in the helicopter with only seven minutes of fuel remaining--a reference to the amount of fuel left in the plane carrying Musharraf on that fateful day.
Sharif's wife Kulsoom and daughter arrived a short time later: the pair prayed softly until the verdict was handed down. Inside the auditorium that has served as the courtroom were government representatives, diplomats, journalists and the defendants' family and friends--about 200 people in all. There were very few defense lawyers in the court. The lead counsel for Sharif, Khwaja Sultan, also stayed away. There was tension in the air.
About 11.30 a.m., the courtroom fell silent. Judge Jafri entered, and everyone rose before the court was seated. Sharif's codefendants looked tired and very worried. Sharif himself was motionless and expressionless. "I have full faith in Allah. I am innocent," he had said as the trial ended last week.
All but Sharif were acquitted. His codefendants would be freed. Sharif, found not guilty of attempted murder and kidnapping, was not spared. Guilty on two counts: hijacking and creating terror and insecurity. Sentenced to two life sentences, to be served concurrently.
Sharif's wife later told reporters: "My husband is innocent. They can't take the risk of freeing him. How could you free a lion after caging him?"
Some of the other women screamed and fought with the guards at the court to be let through to see their relatives. The only other protest occurred when three Sharif supporters began shouting "Long Live Nawaz Sharif" outside the court. The police quickly carted them away.
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