ISLAMABAD - A special court hearing case of high treason against former President General (r) Pervez Musharaf Thursday directed constitution of a medical board to ascertain his health condition, while his lawyers told the court that the ailing ex-general needed medical treatment in the United States.

The former military ruler is currently in a military hospital with a heart condition, after falling ill while travelling to the special treason tribunal on January 2. He is facing accusation of subverting the country’s constitution and putting it in abeyance, and a conviction in the case could result in life imprisonment or even death penalty.

Despite thrice summoning by the court, Musharraf has so far avoided to appear before the court on pretext of serious threat to his life and bad health. The speculation is rife that the 70-year-old will escape trial by leaving the country for treatment.

However on Thursday, the three-member special court headed by Justice Faisal Arab ordered for forming a medical board, comprising senior doctors of Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC), to ascertain Musharraf’s health condition and directed for submission of expert report on January 24. “The issue of non-appearance shall be taken into consideration after we have examined the opinion of the medical board,” the 4-page court order said.

On Jan 3 when Musharraf was being brought to the court for formally charge sheeting him, his convoy was suddenly diverted to AIFC in Rawalpindi after a reported heart attack. Later a medical report was presented in the court citing the retired general was having heart problem and a number of other health issues.

The medical team is to answer: how precarious is the health condition of the accused, which restricts his movement so as to prevent him from attending the court? Has the accused undergone any surgery or other medical procedure during his stay in the hospital or any surgery or medical procedure is planned to be undertaken during his hospitalisation? For how long the accused has been advised for further hospitalisation?

As expected, Pervez Musharaf did not appear in the court yesterday as well and his legal team contended that it was not possible for Musharraf to attend the court as he has not been discharged from the hospital and continues to be under treatment at the AFIC.

The court on January 9 rejecting the medical report had said: “The medical report does not suggest that the accused in his present state of health is unable to attend the court, nor any material was placed on record to justify his inability to appear.”

Defence counsel Anwar Mansoor while submitting a written statement told that his client has earlier been under treatment at Paris Regional Medical Centre in Paris, Texas (US). He (ex-COAS) is being advised that he be transferred at the earliest to the said medical facility so that he is provided further diagnostic and therapeutic treatment.

Further, the respondent has challenged the appointment of the prosecutor, saying the prosecutor has not been appointed in accordance with law, and therefore his appointment is biased. Moreover, he (prosecutor Akram Sheikh) has made several public allegations against the respondent on various media and thus he cannot act as a neutral person, Anwar contended.

He submitted that it is well settled law that whether the jurisdiction of the court is challenged, it should be decided before deciding any other issues and where there is an allegation of bias or the litigant shows his reservation, the judge against whom such allegations are made, should recuse himself so as to show the impartiality.

Similarly, Anwar Mansoor said, as they also have challenged the Akram Sheikh’s appointment as public prosecutor, he could not be allowed to argue the case. He further submitted that security issue is liable to be reconsidered in view of gruesome attack and the sad demise of SP Chaudhry Aslam and the destruction of bulletproof car despite claims of security.

Earlier, during the hearing, Prosecutor Akram Sheikh argued that the court summoned Musharraf thrice but the accused did not appear. He contended that courts do not wait for the accused, adding Egypt’s ex-president Hosni Mubarak was brought on a stretcher in the court when summoned. He also gave reference of Sadarud Din Ghandi. Sheikh said the accused loses the right to audience if he does not surrender to the court. As long as the accused does not surrender himself before the court, he is fugitive.

Ibrahim Satti, another counsel of Musharraf, pleaded that review petitions against the July 31, 2009 order has been filed in the Supreme Court in which inter alia prayed to stay the proceedings related to high treason against Musharraf before the special court. He told that review petitions have been fixed for hearing on January 20, and requested the court that till then the present proceeding be adjourned. The court, however, did not respond to his request.

The court also dismissed Anwar Mansoor’s objections on announcing order by the court and the order in the miscellaneous applications were taken up for hearing. It said: “The principle laid down in Article 4 of Qanun-e-Shahdat Order 1984 is fully attracted and this court cannot be called upon to answer any question as to its own conduct in court.”

The court on the request of Anwar Mansoor, that he had to reach Islamabad High Court to submit intra-court appeal, adjourned the hearing until Friday. Mr Mansoor would advance arguments on the notification for constitution of special court, bias of the judges, jurisdiction of special court to hear the case, and the appointment of the prosecutor general. On the other hand, a Texas doctor said Pervez Musharraf is suffering from an “alarming” heart condition, according to lawyers excusing the former military ruler’s latest no-show at a court to face treason charges.

The former dictator must be transferred to the United States for urgent treatment, according to a letter from cardiac specialist Arjumand Hashmi at the Paris Medical Centre in Paris, Texas. “The findings on his cardiac (scan) are alarming,” wrote Hashmi, who has been treating Musharraf since 2006, the NBC reported.

Hashmi’s letter states the diagnosis is based on “current reports” on Musharraf’s heart condition, but does not state when and where the tests were conducted. “Based on the findings it is my professional opinion that he be transferred at the earliest to our medical facility for further diagnostic and therapeutic treatment,” said the letter, dated Jan 9. However, according to the prosecutors, the letter “does not hold any evidential value” at the court as the Pakistan-born Hashmi is also the mayor of Paris.