ISLAMABAD - A court granted former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf bail Monday in a case related to the death of a radical cleric, paving the way for an end to his more than six-month house arrest, his defence lawyer said.
Musharraf, who has been plagued by legal troubles since he returned to Pakistan in March after years of self-imposed exile, already has been granted bail in three other cases against him. However, he is still prevented from leaving the country, his lawyer Ilyas Saddiqi said.
Saddiqi said Musharraf was granted bail because there was no evidence to prove his involvement in the death of the radical cleric, who was killed during a raid on a hard-line mosque in Islamabad in 2007. Prosecutors could not be immediately reached for comment.
Musharraf ordered the raid against the Red Mosque after students there began harassing massage parlours, stores in the capital that sold music and other targets that they felt promoted vulgarity. The people holed up in the mosque fought for days. The raid ended with nearly 100 people dead, including at least 10 army commandos. The army said it seized a large cache of arms from the mosque when the siege was over.
The incident severely damaged Musharraf's reputation in the country and earned him the undying hatred of militants who launched a series of punishing attacks following the raid. The case stems from a complaint filed by the son of the mosque's cleric who died in the siege. The son had been pushing for Musharraf to be investigated but police refused until a judge in Islamabad ordered them to open a case in early September.
Saddiqi said the bail granted Monday means Musharraf should be free to leave his house on the outskirts of Islamabad, where he has been held under arrest since April.
The other cases he faces have to do with his alleged role in the murder of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the death of a Baluch separatist leader killed by the army and the detention of Pakistani judges.
Musharraf, a 70-year-old former commando, seized power in a 1999 coup when he was serving as army chief and ruled the country for nearly a decade. He was forced to step down in 2008 in response to increasing pressure from a public unhappy with his rule. Musharraf left the country shortly thereafter.
Musharraf returned from exile in March intending to run in upcoming national elections. But he was immediately ordered detained over the pending cases. He also was barred by a court from running for office for the rest of his life. His political party fared poorly in the May election.
The images of Musharraf facing justice like any other Pakistani citizen have been stunning in a country where the military has taken power in three coups and wielded enormous power even under civilian governments. Pakistan's army chief advised Musharraf not to return, but he ignored the advice.
For security reasons, he has been held at his lavish estate in the suburbs of Islamabad instead of a jail. Pakistani security forces have been protecting the estate following threats by the Taliban.