Former President Pervez Musharraf was charged Tuesday with ordering the illegal detention of judges during Pakistan's 2007 political crisis and faces arrest if he returns from exile.
The charge is the latest legal setback for the former military dictator, who lives in London. If convicted, Musharraf could face up to three years in prison. He could post bail if he returns, but analysts doubt he would come back to face the charges.
Last month, Pakistan's Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, concluded that Musharraf had violated the constitution in 2007 when he imposed a national state of emergency and purged the country's courts of 60 judges, including Chaudhry. The chief justice was reinstated in March.
Musharraf's actions were widely seen as an attempt to prevent the Supreme Court from declaring him ineligible to simultaneously hold the posts of president and head of the army. He ordered the detention of those 60 judges at their homes, a move that Islamabad police now say was a crime.
"He is formally charged now," said Hakim Khan, a police official in Islamabad, the capital. "If he comes to Pakistan, he can be arrested."
Experts say the Supreme Court's July 31 ruling that Musharraf had violated the constitution opened the door for possible charges of treason, a crime that could result in the death penalty. In issuing its ruling, the high court left it up to parliament to decide whether to pursue such charges against Musharraf.
Pakistan's two main political parties remain split on whether to build a treason case against the former army chief. President Asif Ali Zardari's Pakistan People's Party has shown scant interest in pursuing the matter, while the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N party, led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, wants Musharraf brought to trial.
Pressure has been building in Pakistan to hold Musharraf accountable for his actions during his nine years in power. His rule, which began with a coup that overthrew Sharif, has been widely criticized as a harsh dictatorship characterized by widespread corruption and the rise of the Taliban insurgency.
His actions against judges in 2007 led to a grass-roots movement of lawyers that became crucial in forcing Musharraf to relinquish his role as army chief, and eventually in driving him from office in 2008.