Islamabad, Feb 3 (IANS): The Pakistan Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had committed contempt by not initiating action against President Asif Ali Zardari for corruption. Gilani was directed to appear before the court on February 13 and he has said he will appear.
The court order shattered the uneasy calm following the tense weeks that saw a stand-off between the civilian leadership, the powerful army and the active judiciary.
The seven-member bench of the Supreme Court said there were grounds to proceed against Gilani.
"After the preliminary hearing, we are satisfied that prima facie there is a case for further proceeding into the matter.
"Adjourned for Feb 13, for framing charges. Prime Minister is required to remain present in the court," said Judge Nasir-ul-Mulk.
If convicted, Gilani would face up to six months in jail and a possible disqualification from public office.
Gilani's counsel Aitzaz Ahsan said outside the court that the government could file an appeal in the case, reported Geo News.
"The court has decided to frame charges against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. He has been asked to be present in person on Feb 13 when he will be indicted," said Aitzaz.
Gilani said he respected the Supreme Court's decision and would appear in court Feb 13.
He said this while addressing the parliament Thursday.
"I have appeared before the court earlier, and I would respect its decision and appear before it again," Dawn quoted Gilani as saying.
"Every body should follow the constitution. All institutions need to work in their constitutional domains; they are all answerable to the parliament," he said.
Gilani had appeared before the Supreme Court Jan 19 in the contempt case for not acting against President Zardari for corruption and for defending his move on the ground that the constitution provided immunity to the president.
In his submission before the Supreme Court, Gilani said that "it will not give a good message to proceed against a president who is elected by a two-thirds majority".
"I have discussed this with my friends and experts, and they all agree that he has got complete immunity," he said.
The court had issued Gilani a contempt notice Jan 16.
The apex court had held as illegal and struck down in 2009 the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which granted immunity to politicians and bureaucrats in corruption cases, and warned the government of action if its ruling was not implemented by Jan 10, 2012.
The court had also sought reopening of cases closed under the NRO, and ordered the government to write a letter to the Swiss authorities specifically to reopen cases against the president.
Zardari, accused of graft, was granted amnesty under the NRO issued in 2007 by then president Pervez Musharraf to facilitate the return of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband Zardari to Pakistan.
Gilani is the second prime minister after Nawaz Sharif to appear before the Supreme Court. On Nov 3, 1997, Nawaz Sharif had been issued a contempt petition by then chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah.