Nearly a month after his arrest for publicizing a scathing attack on President Pervez Musharraf typed on army staff letterhead, a Pakistani opposition leader remained in solitary confinement today, charged with inciting rebellion.
Javed Hashmi, president of the 11-party Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, told a news conference here on Oct. 20 that he had received an unsigned letter on army headquarters stationery condemning Musharraf and his close ties to Washington.
The letter, which Hashmi said was also sent to several other legislators, called for a national judicial inquiry into, among other things, Gen. Musharraf's 1999 coup and his cooperation in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism. Authorities say the letter is a forgery.
Hashmi's family and his lawyers say he has been physically and mentally tortured in jail.
Interrogators have blindfolded Hashmi to disorient him, repeatedly thrown him against walls, and kept him locked up alone in a small, dark cell without breaks for exercise or access to books or newspapers, his daughter, Maimoona Hashmi, said in an interview Sunday.
His daughter was the first person allowed to visit the jailed opposition leader, 18 days after his arrest on Oct. 29. She said the encounter lasted about 15 minutes, under strict supervision that kept the two separated by several feet.
"Because he couldn't speak very clearly in our meeting, he just banged his head sideways to show how he had been physically tortured," said Maimoona Hashmi, 32. "And he was not allowed to sleep for three or four nights."
Javed Hashmi is a longtime member of parliament and acting head of the Pakistan Muslim League, the party led by exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf overthrew in the bloodless coup.
Musharraf remains chief of army staff, despite opposition charges that he is violating the constitution, and has never stood for election. In April 2002 he held and won a controversial referendum extending his rule for five years.
"Pervez Musharraf and his gang were imposed on this nation," said the anonymous letter that got Hashmi arrested. "These national criminals have not only held the army hostage, but also the entire nation.
"This is the gang of thieves, which has looted its own nation and also aided American Jews and Christians in killing our Afghan brothers. This Pervez Musharraf has transformed Pakistan from the fort of Islam to the deathbed of Muslims."
The letter, written in Urdu, was addressed "To the National Leadership," and praised the National Assembly for preventing Musharraf from sending troops to aid U.S. forces in Iraq.
"Had there been no parliament, then our soldiers would have been killing Iraqis along with Americans, and the nation would have been receiving the dead bodies of the sons of the soil every day," the letter said.
The military's Inter-Services Intelligence agency denounced the letter as a fake, and Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed called it baseless propaganda worse than that spread by rival India's foreign intelligence service, called the Research and Analysis Wing.
A little more than a week after he read the letter to reporters, Hashmi was stopped in his car around midnight on Oct. 29 by commandos and plainclothes officers believed to be from the ISI.
So far, none of Hashmi's lawyers have been allowed to see him to prepare his defense, lawyer Syed Zafar Ali Shah, a member of Hashmi's legal team, said in an interview Monday.
Hashmi never expressed support for the anonymous letter, but only read it to reporters after a committee of parliament members selected him to make it public, his lawyer said.
"I don't know whether it is authentic or forged," Shah added. "It is an anonymous letter addressed to many members of parliament. He did not endorse it."
But Hashmi did publicly support at least one demand in the letter: a commission of inquiry into the 1999 Kargil war between India and Pakistan, which critics have said was a disastrous invasion planned years earlier by Musharraf.
The letter also accused Musharraf's government of giving senior military officers plots of land worth $107,000 to $154,000 each, in Lahore, just before Pakistan turned against the Taliban regime it helped create in neighboring Afghanistan.
Prosecutors have filed at least 10 separate criminal charges against Hashmi. The most serious are sedition, or inciting rebellion, aiding mutiny in the armed forces and spreading rumors against the military, said Shah. The legislator faces life in prison if convicted.
Human rights groups and pro-democracy politicians in Pakistan complained that Washington was allowing Musharraf to violate basic rights because he was a key ally in the war on terrorism.
"How can a leader of the opposition, a member of the National Assembly, be treated like this and there is no outcry in the United States?" Shah asked.
Ambassador Nancy Powell mentioned Hashmi's case during a speech on U.S. foreign policy toward Pakistan. But it was only a passing reference in which Powell called for a speedy trial, not for his release.
U.S. diplomats have raised Hashmi's case with Pakistan Foreign Ministry officials in Islamabad, and the State Department has expressed its views with Pakistan's Ambassador in Washington, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, said Andrew Steinfeld, U.S. Embassy spokesman in Islamabad. Political officers from the embassy also have been in contact with Hashmi's family.
Special correspondent Mubashir Zaidi contributed to this report.