ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's top court on Monday ordered former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf to respond to allegations that he committed treason while in power and barred him from leaving the country.
The Supreme Court acted in response to private petitions alleging Musharraf committed various treasonable offenses while in office, including toppling an elected government, suspending the constitution and sacking senior judges, including the chief justice.
If convicted of treason, Musharraf could be sentenced to death. The hearing is scheduled to be held on Tuesday. Musharraf could appear in person, or send a lawyer.
"People want justice, rule of law and implementation of the constitution," one of the petitioners, lawyer Chaudhry Akram, told two Supreme Court judges overseeing Monday's hearing.
Musharraf seized power in a military coup in 1999 but was forced to step down almost a decade later under the threat of impeachment by Pakistan's main political parties. He left the country in 2008 and spent more than four years in self-imposed exile before returning last month to run in upcoming parliamentary elections.
Musharraf has experienced a bumpy return to his homeland. He was met by a couple thousand people at the airport in the southern city of Karachi when his flight touched down from Dubai, a sign of how little support many analysts say he enjoys in Pakistan.
The Taliban have threatened to kill him, and he faces a series of legal charges that he has denied, including some related to the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
However, he registered a victory on Sunday when he was given approval to run for parliament from a remote district in northern Pakistan.
Judges rejected his nomination in several other districts, and lawyers have said they plan to go to a high court to challenge his right to run. Pakistan's political system allows a candidate to run for several seats simultaneously.
Musharraf's ability to run also could be complicated by the treason allegations against him, though it remains to be seen whether he will actually be charged and convicted. According to the law, only an official of the federal government could register a case against Musharraf for treason.
One of the petitioners, lawyer Sheikh Ahsanuddin, demanded that Musharraf be charged with treason, saying civilian leaders in Pakistan have been executed and sent into exile, but "nothing has happened to the dictators."
"If a precedent is set, a lot of the problems of this country would be solved," Ahsanuddin told the court.
One of Musharraf's aides, Saima Ali Dada, declined to say whether the former leader would appear in person before the judges or send a lawyer, citing security reasons.
The judges reaffirmed that Musharraf should be prevented from leaving the country while legal proceedings involving him are underway. The high court in southern Sindh province earlier ordered that the former military ruler be placed on an exit-control list to prevent him from leaving.
Musharraf returned to Pakistan to participate in the May 11 parliamentary election. But even if he is allowed to run, the impact of his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, is expected to be minimal because of the perceived lack of support for the former military strongman.
The upcoming vote is historic because it will mark the first transition between democratically elected governments in a country that has experienced three coups and frequent political instability.
Associated Press writers Sebastian Abbot and Rebecca Santana in Islamabad contributed to this report.