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Pakistan PM appears in court on contempt charges

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] honored a summons issued by the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] by appearing Thursday to answer contempt charges brought by the court earlier this week [JURIST report]. Gilani was ordered to appear to explain why he did not comply with court's order to reopen a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari [official website]. Gilani maintained that Zardari is immune from prosecution [AP report]. The conflict between the prime minister and the court stems from an order which struck down [JURIST report] the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) [text] in 2009, which granted immunity to Zardari and 8,000 other government officials from charges of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, murder and terrorism between January 1986 and October 1999. The court wants the government to ask Swiss authorities to reopen their case against Zardari, who was found guilty in absentia in Swiss court in 2003, but the case was subsequently dropped at the request of the Pakistani government. The court adjourned the matter for two weeks, scheduling a hearing on February 1 to hear more arguments on the case, including the issue of the president's immunity.

These proceedings reflect an ongoing struggle between the government and the courts in Pakistan. Last month, the Supreme Court formed a judicial committee to investigate a secret memo [JURIST report] sent from an unknown Pakistani source to US Admiral Mike Mullen in May asking for help in preventing a suspected army coup. Zardari and former Pakistan ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani have been accused of writing or having knowledge of the memo, and both have denied these allegations. In October 2011, the Supreme Court issued a judgment urging political parties to stop financing criminal groups [JURIST report] responsible for increased violence in the city of Karachi. The decision stated that militant groups have gained strength because of support from local political groups and order the Pakistani government to help address the corruption. The Court struck down the NRO in 2009, which was signed [JURIST report] by former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in 2007.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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