High-ranking Pakistani diplomats warned yesterday that criticism of moves against former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto could be a "disruptive factor" in relations between Pakistan and other countries.
In an hour-long briefing by a senior diplomat in Pakistan's embassy here, journalists who normally cover events in Pakistan were told:
"Many journalists writing on the Bhutto trial have not put out the facts.It is the desire of the government of Pakistan to have the facts known." The spokesman insisted that he not be identified by name or rank.
Bhutto was sentenced to hang two weeks ago for his role in the 1974 murder of one of his political opponents. He has appealed the decision, and the death sentence, but a number of countries and international organizations have made public and private pleas to the government of Gen. Ziaul-Haq to commute the sentence.
These pleas apparently led to yesterday's warnings to journalists, and implicitly to other countries.
The official quoted at length from the 400-page judgment of the Lahore high court - now available in a booklet published by the Pakistan government - to show that the murder case against the former prime minister had been conducted with scrupulous fairness.
The charges, the official said, "had been proved to the hilt," and Bhutto himself shown to be "a compulsive liar." Criticism of the impartiality of the court - made by several Western reporters, and repeated in editorials, the official said, "from Hong Kong to Sydney" - was "bound to be resented" in Pakistan.
Bhutto's appeal to the Pakistan supreme court could delay final announcement of the verdict by another six weeks. The first supreme court hearing is scheduled to be held today to discuss certain technical points, but the main case will be heard in mid-April.
The supreme court, the embassy official said yesterday, was "quite impartial" and it was "totally wrong" for any observer to agree with the claim by Bhutto's lawyer that the appeal would be "an exercise in futility" because of the alleged bias of the court.