A Pakistani court Monday annulled the death sentence handed to former president Pervez Musharraf, ruling that the special court that found him guilty of treason last year was unconstitutional.
Musharraf was sentenced to death in absentia in December after being tried on a charge of high treason for imposing a military coup and declaring a state of emergency in 2007.
He is currently in Dubai of the United Arab Emirates after being allowed to leave Pakistan for medical treatment in 2016.
'He is a free man'
The original ruling had marked the first time a former leader of the armed forces had faced such a sentence for treason in Pakistan, where the military maintains strong influence and senior officers are often considered immune from prosecution.
It caused a wave of controversy, with Musharraf slamming it as a "vendetta" and the military expressing its disappointment.
A High Court in the eastern city of Lahore ruled it "illegal" on Monday.
"The filing of the complaint, the constitution of the court, the selection of the prosecution team are illegal, declared to be illegal... And at the end of the day the full judgment has been set aside," the prosecutor representing the government, Ishtiaq A. Khan, told AFP.
"Yes, he is a free man. Right now there is no judgment against him any longer," Khan added.
Musharraf's lawyer, Azhar Siddique, also told the media outside the court in Lahore that it has "nullified everything."
The prosecution now has the option to file a new case against Musharraf with the approval of the federal cabinet.
The former army chief seized power in a 1999 coup, dismissing the government of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Musharraf later served as the country's president from 2001 to 2008.
After Sharif was elected prime minister in 2013, he initiated a treason trial against Musharraf, and in March 2014, the former general was charged for high treason.
Controversial coup leader, role in fighting terrorism
The case centers around Musharraf's decision to suspend the Constitution and impose emergency rule in 2007. The controversial move ultimately sparked protests against Musharraf, leading to his resignation in the face of impeachment proceedings.
Musharraf has been in self-imposed exile ever since a travel ban was lifted in 2016 that allowed him to seek medical treatment abroad. The 76-year-old has since spent most of his time between Dubai and London.
Musharraf, who was born in India's capital New Delhi in 1943 but moved with his family to Pakistan at partition, took power after ousting Sharif in the bloodless coup two decades ago.
The general became a key U.S. ally in the "war on terror" and escaped at least three al-Qaeda assassination attempts during his nine years in office.
His rule faced no serious challenges until he tried to sack the chief justice in March 2007, sparking nationwide protests and months of turmoil that led to the imposition of a state of emergency.
After the December 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the national mood soured further, and he was left isolated by the crushing losses suffered by his allies in February 2008 elections. Musharraf finally resigned in August 2008 and went into exile.
He returned to Pakistan in 2013 in an attempt to contest elections but was barred from taking part in the polls and from leaving the country while facing a barrage of legal cases.
In 2017, a Pakistani court pronounced Musharraf a fugitive in the murder trial of Bhutto. Musharraf is alleged to have been part of a broad conspiracy to have his political rival killed before elections. He has denied the allegation.
On December 17 last year, a special court in Islamabad found Musharraf guilty of high treason and handed him a death sentence in absentia.
(With input from AFP, Reuters)