[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] convicted [order text] Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] of contempt of court Wednesday for disobeying a court order to open corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari [official website]. The decision proscribed a symbolic punishment of "imprisonment till the rising of the Court today," and does not attach jail time nor remove Gilani from public office, which were potential penalties [JURIST report] when charges were announced. Gilani's party, the Pakistan People's Party [official website], lamented the ruling [press release] in a meeting of party leaders:
[T]he meeting expressed dismay that an elected Prime Minister of the country had been sentenced for upholding the Constitution and supremacy of the Parliament. It also noted with disappointment that while no dictator had been punished for suspension and abrogation of the Constitution a democratically and unanimously elected Prime Minister had been sentenced for upholding the Constitution. It expressed concern over attempts to dismiss an elected government and an elected Prime Minister.Gilani has yet to make a statement, but his lawyer stated that he will appeal the ruling [Bloomberg report]. If the ruling stands, it empowers the National Assembly of Pakistan [official website] to remove Gilani from office if it desires.
The Supreme Court charged and issued a summons demanding Gilani appear [JURIST reports] in February. The month prior, Gilani honored previously issued summons by appearing before the Supreme Court to answer contempt charges [JURIST reports] and explain why he failed to purse corruption charges against Zardari, who is accused of using Swiss bank accounts to fund bribes. The conflict between the prime minister and the court stems from an order that 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. 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.