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Pakistan to Indict Prime Minister for Contempt

Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani (C) waves to supporters from the steps of the Supreme Court after his contempt hearing in Islamabad, January 19, 2012.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has announced that it plans to indict Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on February 13 for contempt of court.

The seven-member bench of the top Pakistani court ruled Thursday that there was enough ground to proceed further and charge Prime Minister Gilani with contempt. The Pakistani leader has also been ordered to appear before the court in its next hearing, February 13, when the judges plan to announce the charges.

The contempt proceedings against Gilani stem from an earlier Supreme Court ruling that ordered the prime minister to reopen old corruption cases against thousands of people, including President Asif Ali Zardari.

If convicted, Prime Minister Gilani could lose his job and go to jail. But legal experts like Supreme Court lawyer Tariq Mehmood say the nature of the sentence will depend on the ultimate conviction order.

“It depends upon the ultimate conviction order, because if the court would say that you have ridiculed the court or you have acted in a manner to defame the court, then the consequence would be very serious because in that case on conviction, irrespective of the quantum of sentence, he would straight away lose his seat [in the parliament] for the next five years,” he said.

Corruption charges against President Zardari and other Pakistani officials date back to the 1990s and were pardoned under a controversial decree in 2007. But the Pakistani Supreme Court threw out the amnesty, commonly referred to as the National Reconciliation Ordinance, in 2009 and ordered the government to reopen the cases.

That court ruling also bound the government to write a letter to Swiss authorities, asking them to restore corruption cases against Zardari in that country.

But Prime Minister Gilani has refused to implement the decision saying the country’s constitution does not allow him to initiate any legal proceedings against Zardari as long as he is the president of the country.

The prime minister's defense lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan says he is advising Gilani to appeal the contempt case even before a trial begins.