The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] charged Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] with contempt of court Monday for disobeying a court order to open corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari [official website]. Gilani appeared before the court and pleaded not guilty, saying he will fight the charges. The Supreme Court claims Gilani defied a court order [BBC report] to ask Swiss authorities to re-open cases against Zardari. Gilani has maintained that charges against President Zardari are politically motivated and the president has immunity as the head of state [Al Jazeera report]. If he is convicted of contempt Gilani could lose his public office [JURIST report] 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. The next session is set to take place on February 22.
The Supreme Court issued a summons two weeks ago demanding Gilani appear [JURIST report] at Monday's contempt hearing. Last month, 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 President 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.