Supreme Court charges PM with contempt of court
The countdown begins
* Court says Gilani ‘willfully flouted, disregarded and disobeyed’ court orders
* PM pleads not guilty, says he will reply to charge sheet in writing
* Exempted from personal appearance in court
* Attorney general asked to act as prosecutor, submit relevant documents until 16th
By Hasnaat Malik
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday charged Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani with contempt of court for “willfully defying, disregarding and disobeying” court’s order of writing a letter to Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
The contempt of court charge was framed against the prime minister by a seven-member bench headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk.
It said the prime minister “has willfully flouted, disregarded and disobeyed the direction given by this court”.
“Have you heard and understood the charge?” Justice Nasirul Mulk asked the PM after reading the indictment. “Yes” was the reply from Gilani, who swept into court dressed in a dark suit, grey tie, white shirt and cufflinks.
“Dou you plead guilty to the charge?” the judge asked. “No,” reply the prime minister.
Asked if he had any defence to make, Gilani said, “I will reply to the charge sheet in writing through my counsel.”
The court has exempted the prime minister from personal appearance in court for time being.
The court directed Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq to act as prosecutor in the case and submit all relevant documents, including a list of witnesses of the case, until February 16.
Aitzaz Ahsan, counsel for the prime minister, sought time to submit a reply, saying “I have to file nomination papers for the Senate [elections] and I will be in London from 18 to 21.”
The court asked the lawyer to file the defence document and the list of the witnesses by February 27.
Proper proceedings of the case will be resumed on February 28.
Several leaders from the Pakistan People’s Party and its coalition parties were also present in the courtroom. They included Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Asfandyar Wali Khan, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, Firdaus Ashiq Awan, Syed Khurshid Shah, Naveed Qamar, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, Rehman Malik, Maula Bakhash Chandio, Punjab Governor Latif Khosa and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Masood Kausar.
Earlier, the prime minister drove his vehicle to the Supreme Court. Security was tight for Monday’s hearing, with hundreds of riot police guarding the Supreme Court, long queues trailing back from checkpoints and helicopters hovering over the government sector in the capital. The hearing, according to Reuters, lasted less than half an hour and Gilani left soon after, waving confidently to crowds of lawyers huddled under gloomy grey skies and a persistent drizzle. The black-suited lawyers divided themselves into two factions, chanting support for either the government or the Supreme Court.
The ongoing civilian-judicial confrontation stems from thousands of old corruption cases thrown out in 2007 by an amnesty law passed under former president Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf.