Pakistan president signs bill to shield PM from contempt proceedings

[JURIST] Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari [official website] on Thursday signed the Contempt of Court Bill 2012, which would shield senior officials from contempt of court proceedings. The bill was approved by both the lower [JURIST report] and upper [AFP report] house of the national parliament on Monday and Wednesday, respectively. The new law is seen as an attempt to exempt the new prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf [BBC profile] from a possible upcoming contempt of court proceeding for failure to reopen the investigation against Zardari. Some, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) [party website] party, have criticized the new legislation because it has no apparent purpose other than protecting the new prime minister. Even the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party [party website] expressed its concern by stating that any law created in haste has the heightened potential of being counterproductive. Despite such attempts by the legislature to block the judiciary from forcing the prime minister to reopen the corruption case against the president, the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] on Thursday again ordered [Reuters report] Ashraf to reopen the corruption case against Zardari and to submit a report on compliance by July 25. The court's order amid the approval of the new law by the parliament and the president may deepen the tension between judges and politicians. Opposition parties have expressed their plan to challenge the new law because it violates the country's constitution.

The country's judiciary has been in conflict with the executive branch since political leaders have rejected the court's order to investigate into the president's alleged corruption practices. The court had ordered [JURIST report] the new prime minister in late June to investigate the corruption allegations against the president. Ashraf, however, has argued that president is immune from prosecution under the country's constitution. The court in response claimed that no one is above the law and thus, the investigation against the president should proceed. During the same month, a Pakistani court ordered [JURIST report] the arrest of Makhdoom Shahabuddin [BBC profile], a former health minister from Punjab Province and the nominee for the country's then-vacant prime minister position for allegations that he was involved in irregularities in the amount of the controlled drug Ephedrine circulating within the country during his tenure as health minister. The arrest order was issued the same day the president nominated Shahabuddin to fill the position of former prime minister Gilani who was disqualified two days earlier from being a member of Parliament since his April contempt conviction [JURIST reports]. He was convicted of contempt because he refused to open an investigation against the president.

 

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