[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] on Wednesday ordered Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf [BBC profile] to appear before the court by the end of this month to explain his refusal to reopen the investigation into corruption allegations against President Asif Ali Zardari [official website]. Ashraf may also face contempt of court proceedings like his predecessor Yousuf Raza Gilani [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] if he does not appear before the court on August 27 or continues to refuse to write a letter to Swiss authorities to reopen the case against the president. The tension between the country’s judiciary and executive branch has been escalating since the government has refused to follow the high court’s order to probe the corruption allegations against the president. Despite the announcement by the Swiss authorities stating that they will not reopen the case against the Pakistani president, the tension continues. Some have argued [WP report] that the judiciary is becoming too powerful. The former prime minister Gilani was disqualified from being a member of Parliament after an April contempt conviction [JURIST reports] and removed from office when he declined to follow the same court order that has been given to Ashraf.
On Monday the government announced that it will petition the high court to review its decision nullifying [JURIST reports] 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 [AFP report] and lower houses of the national parliament and signed [JURIST reports] by Zardari last month. The legislature and the president approved the law in order to protect the new PM from possible contempt of court proceedings for failure to reopen the investigation against Zardari. 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.