Pale and trembling after months waiting in a death cell, Pakistan's deposed prime minister, Zulfigar Ali Bhutto, was brought to the Supreme Court today under armed guard to call on the seven judges not to show him mercy or pity, but to give him justice.
"I want my innocence to be established not for my own sake but for the higher considerate that this has been a grotesque injustice," Bhutto said. "Only a sick and depraved regime could treat me like this."
When Bhutto was brought in, most people stood up, as if he were still prime minister. From a distance, he was a commanding figure. He gray pinstripe suit was well cut and expensive. He wore a cream shirt with a blue tie.
But as he got closer, Bhutto looked grim, sad and sick. During his address, his face became pale, he began sweating, and he had some difficulty putting his thoughts together.
At one point, Bhutto broke down and began weeping as he described the conditions of solitary confinement under which he is being held.
"I don't like to talk about it," Bhutto began. "I am embarrassed. My people will be embarrassed." A stillness fell over the packed court as he fought to control himself. After a pause Bhutto said: "But believe me, I have been very shabbily treated."
Then he could no longer stop his mouth from trembling and the tears which had been close on several occasions during his address finally spilled down hs cheeks. Bhutto hung his head.
He cried: "I am not a ruthless phenomenon. I have done no harm to this country. I am treated like a criminal when I am not a criminal. I am treated worse than the other coaccused.
"Fove 90 days I have not seen sunshine or light.
I was put into the death cell on the 15th of October and kept there for 10 days because two prisoners had run away. What connection is this to me? I am not going to run away from my country. I am not leaving my roots."
He hit his fit once on the wooden podium where he stood in front of the bench of judges and muttered a Sindi oath, invoking a god to keep him from losing his confidence.
Four feet to one side sat Ahmad Raza Kasuri, the young black-haired politician who Bhutto hated so much that he ordered him killed. The state case, which resulted in Bhutto's conviction, is that in the resultant ambush, Kasuri's father was shot dead instead. Today, Kasuri watched unmoved as the former premier wept.
It was Bhutto's last chance, a personal plea before the judges who must decide whether to overturn his conviction, or permit his execution.
Three options are open to the court. It can overturn the conviction and set Bhutto free; it can commute the sentence; or it can uphold the conviction and permit the death sentence to be carried out. President Zia ul-Haq has said he will let the court's ruling stand and the decision of the seven judges, expected in a few weeks, will be controversial no matter which way they rule.
The courtroom is small, with seats for 80, including the defense and prosecution teams and the defendants. However, 300 tickets were issued, and the line began forming early in the morning. When the doors finally opened, it was found that the court was already half filled with well-connected Pakistanis and plainclothes policemen who had been admitted through another entrance. Those who could not squeeze into the public benches crowded the aisles, or sat on piles of legal volumes.
Bhutto began by thanking the judges for letting him address them.
Not only my life as an individual is involved," he said. "But according to my objective appreciation . . . the future of Pakistan itself is involved."
He apologized in advance if he strayed from the point, or went over old ground, but the court would appreciate that for more than a year, he had been kept in a seven-foot by ten-foot cell-"and in this courtroom I feel a little dizzy. I can't adjust in this courtroom. I can't adjust myself to the momentum and the people. It is nice to see people again."
He said he would not scandalize or embarrass any individuals or institutions.
"The stakes are too high," Bhutto said.
But there were important points which he felt he ought to deal with. Much had been said during the trial about the social conditions in Pakistan during his government, and how his tyrannical, dictatorial behavior had forced individuals to do exactly as he told them. He wanted to discuss this, Bhutto said, and to compare it to the social conditions existing in Pakistan now under military rule.
"In my time, there was a parliament in existence," Bhutto pointed out. "There was democracy in existence. Speeches criticizing me were made in parliament. Those conditions can never be compared to conditions under martial law.
"You may say: 'This man is a very vain man, a boastful man.' But don't you see the void in the country? There is no direction.
"The balance of power has shifted so much, and is shifting so fast that the Subcontinent is in a new political crisis of a great magnitude."
The chief justice, Anwar ul-Haq, interrupted: "I think it would be very useful to the country at large and to us as citizens of Pakistan to listen to you with all your deep insight into foreign affairs, but as we see the scope of this case, it is hardly relevant."
Bhutto was by this time sweating and looking ill but said he would carry on if the court wished. He could come to the court as early as the judges wanted the following day.
"I am not permitted to sleep," he explained. "When I first came to the prison here, they were throwing pebbles onto the roof. Every fifteen minutes, I could hear the noise on the tin roof. They used to collect the pebbles up in the morning, and throw them at night.
"They turned off my water for 25 days. Only yesterday did they restore it."
Bhuto declared: "It is only my determination and will power that has let me come here. Any ordinary man would have disintegrated."
Bhutto is to appear before the court again Tuesday. He was driven back to Rawalpindi prison in a military convoy, guarded by more than a dozen armed soldiers, and unseen by small groups of Pakistanis along the route.