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Pakistan high court orders PM to appear on contempt charges

The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] on Thursday ordered Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to appear in court on February 13 for a formal indictment on contempt charges. Gilani has failed to comply with the court's order to reopen a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari [official website], but Gilani maintains he did not comply with the court's order because Zardari is immune from prosecution [Al Jazeera 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. Gilani and his lawyers are considering appealing the indictment, which is permitted in Pakistan even before a conviction has been handed down. If convicted, Gilani could face six months in prison and removal from public office.

These proceedings reflect an ongoing struggle between the government and the courts in Pakistan. In December, 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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