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December 18, 2019

Treason charges also haunted non-military monarchs and rulers


December 18, 2019

LAHORE: A good number of civilian rulers, kings, queens, heads of puppet regimes, high-raking government officials, noted civilians and even commoners were either executed or were convicted for treason, defined as an act of betraying one's country, especially by attempting to kill or overthrow the sovereign or government.

As far as history of treason is concerned, King of England and Ireland, Henry (1491-1547), used to execute people who would criticize him for his six marriages.

To avoid the abuses of the English law (including executions by Henry VIII of those who criticised his repeated marriages), treason was specifically defined in Article III (section 3) of the United States Constitution, the only crime so defined.

The first most powerful person beheaded for this crime was King Charles I, who was beheaded on January 30, 1649 in London. He was found guilty of high treason with a death warrant signed by 59 commissioners (judges). He was swiftly decapitated with a single blow to his neck but not before uttering his last words, “I am the martyr of the people”.

In 1536, King Henry VIII sentenced Anne Boleyn, his very own wife, her brother, and their acquaintances to be executed on the grounds of committing adultery, incest, and treason which were based on seemingly inconclusive evidence.

In 1542, King Henry VIII once again sentenced another wife to be beheaded a few years later. This time, Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife was on the receiving end of the King’s ire.

In 1554, the “Nine-Day Queen” Lady Jane Grey became a victim of unfortunate circumstances. She was beheaded by her rival, Mary Tudor. Tudor organized a rebellion that led to the beheading of Queen Grey, her husband Lord Guildford Dudley, and a few others, on charges of high treason. The Queen’s father was beheaded just 11 days later.

In 1587, Queen Mary was pitted against her cousin Elizabeth I of England. The Scottish Queen was imprisoned for 19 years until she was sentenced to be beheaded.

In 1793, the most popular of all royals to be beheaded was also one of the first to sample the guillotine. King Louis XVI’s reign was doomed from the start, with famine and poverty stalking the land due to the opulence of his predecessors. His marriage to Austrian Marie Antoinette and his ascension to the throne only fueled the people's hatred toward the royals, culminating in the French Revolution.

Months later, Louis XVI’s wife suffered the same fate. Marie Antoinette became the last Queen of France after she was tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal on October 14, 1793, and found guilty of high treason and conspiracy.

In relatively recent times, Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945), the Minister President of Nazi-occupied Norway during World War II, was also charged with high treason. He was executed by firing squad at Oslo on October 24, 1945.

Imre Nagy, a former Prime Minister of Hungary, was also charged with treason. Nagy’s second term had ended when his non-Soviet-backed government was brought down by Soviet invasion in the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956, resulting in Nagy’s execution on charges of treason two years later in 1958.

Pascal Lissouba, the first democratically elected President of the Republic of the Congo from August 31, 1992 to October 15, 1997, was convicted in absentia to 30 years labour work for treason and corruption in 2001.

The charges had related to a $150 million oil deal with the American company Occidental Petroleum.

The “BBC” had stated on December 29, 2001: “Lissouba and four of his former ministers were convicted in absentia for their part in a $150 million oil deal with the American company, Occidental Petroleum. They werefound to have sold the oil in 1993 at less than a quarter of the market price.”

Former Greek Prime Minister, Dimitrios Gounaris, was convicted of treason in 1922 and executed same year. The Ministers for Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Military Affairs in Premier Dimitrios Gounaris’ government were also executed on same charges.

Anton Adriaan Mussert, one of the founders of the National Socialist Movement I the Netherlands, was the most prominent Dutch fascist before and during World War II. During the war, he was able to keep this position, due to the support he received from the Germans. After the war, he was convicted and executed for high treason in May 1946.

If we refresh our memories, many of us would recall that Ala’a Hussein Ali Al-Khafaji Al-Jaber, who was the head of a brief puppet government in Kuwait during the initial stages of the 1990 Gulf War, was sentenced in absentia to death by hanging for treason by the Kuwaiti government in 1993. In January 2000, he had returned to Kuwait attempting to appeal the sentence.

The court however, confirmed Ali guilty of treason again on May 3, 2000. In March 2001, his sentence was commuted to life in prison. A few high-ranking government functionaries in history did manage to get way with these serious allegations, but were forced to relinquish charge.

For example, in 2004, Fiji’s then-incumbent Vice President, Jope Naucabalavu Seniloli, had to face the music and was forced to resign following his conviction for treason and the rejection of his appeal.

The most famous treason trial in the US history was that of country’s former Vice President, Aaron Burr, in 1807. Vice president Aaron Burr (1756-1836) was finally acquitted after the US Supreme Court had adjudged that his implication in the treason case was a politically motivated attempt of President Thomas Jefferson’s regime to convict opponents.

By the way, famous Nazi leader and German Chancellor Adolf Hitler was also arrested and convicted of high treason in 1924 in the October/November 1923 “Beer Hall Putsch” controversy aimed at overthrowing the government in power and seizing power in Munich.

The attempt was unsuccessful, resulting in 20 deaths and the Nazi Party headquarters were raided. The party’s newspaper “The People’s Observer” was consequently banned. Hitler was sentenced to five years in April 1924, but was released after serving just nine months of his jail term on account of good behaviour.

An Army volunteer during World War I, Hitler had somehow remained in military till 1920 - but was never a top official anyway. During February this year, a Russian court had handed down long prison terms for two men convicted on treason charges for allegedly sharing information about Russian cybercriminals with American law enforcement officials.

While Sergei Mikhailov, formerly deputy chief of Russia's top anti-cybercrime unit, was sentenced today to 22 years in prison, a 14-year sentence was handed to Ruslan Stoyanov, another senior employee at a local laboratory.

In 2009, Herman Simm, a former security chief of Estonia's Defence Ministry, had pleaded guilty to treason and was sentenced to 12.5 years imprisonment and a hefty fine in damages.

Just to recall, a London-based Kashmiri political activist and head of the World Kashmir Freedom Movement, Muhammad Ayyub Thakur (1948 - 2004), was charged of treason and for backing groups of Mujahideen in Held Kashmir.

He was resultantly stripped of his Indian citizenship in 1993.

His passport was impounded by the Indian government, but he had somehow obtained British travel papers which he used until his death in 2004.

Thakur was close to Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, the head of the Kashmiri American Council, who was convicted in 2011 of Federal crimes in the United States.

Ayyub Thakur was not allowed to be buried in India, despite a petition by his family.

An Israeli nuclear technician, Mordechai Vanunu, was held on treason charges for revealing details of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme to the British press in 1986.

Vanunu had to spend 18 years in prison, including more than 11 in solitary confinement. He was released from prison in 2004.

In Pakistan, a physician who helped American CIA run a fake hepatitis vaccination programme to confirm osama bin Laden’s presence in the city of Abbottabad City, was sentenced to 33 years’ imprisonment for treason in May 2012. Lawyers appealed against the verdict in June 2012 and in August 2013, his sentence was overturned and a retrial ordered.

In mid-November 2013, he was charged with murder in regard to the death of a patient he had treated eight years previously.