Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday appealed a summons issued by the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] demanding he appear [JURIST report] in a hearing against him for contempt. The contempt charge stems from Gilani's refusal to purse corruption charges against Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari [profile]. Gilani has maintained that he would not pursue charges against President Zardari because the president has immunity as the head of state [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. If he is convicted of contempt Gilani could lose his public office and be sent to prison for up to six months. This is only the second time that contempt charges have been filed against a sitting prime minister in Pakistan's history.
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.