[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] on Friday nullified the Contempt of Court Bill 2012 which was passed to shield the country’s new prime minister from contempt charges. The bill was passed by the upper and lower houses of the national parliament and signed [JURIST reports] by President Asif Ali Zardari [official website] last month. The court held [ABC News report] that the new law violates the basic principles of equality among Pakistan’s citizens, according to the lawyer challenging the law. The legislature and the president approved the law in order to protect Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf [BBC profile] from possible contempt of court proceedings for failure to reopen the investigation against Zardari. His predecessor Yousuf Raza Gilani [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was disqualified from being a member of Parliament after an April contempt conviction [JURIST reports] and removed from office. Friday’s ruling makes such outcome more likely for Ashraf. Ashraf has indicated that he is not intending to obey the court’s order to write to the Swiss authorities to reopen the investigation against the Pakistani president on corruption allegations.
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. The court had granted [JURIST report] an additional two weeks for Ashraf to comply with its order last week. The court had ordered [JURIST report] the new prime minister in late June to investigate the corruption allegations against the president. Ashraf, like his predecessor, has argued that the 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.