Guilty but free
ISLAMABAD: A dark chapter was written in the political history of Pakistan on Thursday when a seven-member bench of the Supreme Court convicted Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani for his willful intent of not complying with its order regarding writing a letter to the Swiss and other authorities for the reopening of illegal wealth cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. Within hours, the government announced its decision to appeal against the verdict.
Prime Minister Gilani, who had earlier earned the distinction of being the longest serving genuinely democratically elected prime minister of the country, also became the first prime minister in a democratic dispensation convicted on the charge of deliberately disobeying the country’s highest court.
A seven-member special bench of the apex court headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk, while announcing the short order in the contempt of court case against the hapless premier, ruled that the accused, Yusaf Raza Gilani, is found guilty of contempt for willfully flouting the directions of the Supreme Court. PM Gilani was punished with imprisonment till the rising of the court.
Gilani, who appeared before the court along with his cabinet members, was called to the rostrum for his conviction for flouting the court order. “Mr Aitzaz Ahsan can you call the respondent to the rostrum,” Justice Nasir asked the premier’s counsel in the jam-packed Courtroom Number 4.
Reading an already prepared verdict, Justice Nasirul Mulk said, “For the reasons to be recorded later, the accused Yusuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister of Pakistan and chief executive of the federation, is found guilty of and convicted for contempt of court under Article 204(2) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 read with Section 3 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance (Ordinance V of 2003) for the willful flouting, disregard and disobedience of this court’s direction contained in paragraph number 178 of the judgment delivered in the case of Dr. Mubashar Hasan vs the federation of Pakistan after our satisfaction that the contempt committed by PM Gilani is substantially detrimental to the administration of justice and tends to bring this court and the judiciary of the country into ridicule”.
Justice Mulk went on to read, “As regards the sentence to be passed against the convict, we note that the findings and conviction for contempt of court recorded are likely to entail some serious consequences in term of Article 63 (1) (g) of the 1973 Constitution which may be read as mitigating factors towards the sentence we passed against him,” adding the premier was therefore punished under Section 5 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 with imprisonment till the rising of the court.
After showing restraint for over three years, the apex court was left with no option but to finally issue a show cause notice to the premier on January 16 for not implementing its order on the NRO and later summoned him on January 19. The court had finally framed charges against the premier on February 13.
During the course of the hearings, the court had repeatedly asked the counsel for the premier to ask his client to write the letter to the Swiss authorities. However, Aitzaz Ahsan apart from opposing the bench for not being competent to hear the case stressed on the immunity enjoyed by the president under international laws.
The conviction of the prime minister has now launched a new phase of complex legal and parliamentary moves aimed at deciding the thorny question of his ultimate disqualification as the holder of public office. While the exact contours of things to come shall become clearer with the coming in of the detailed order of the seven-member bench, the conviction has already added to the growing political uncertainty in the country. That the government plans to respond with full vengeance was betrayed by the extremely harsh tone adopted by Attorney General Irfan Qadir who while talking to the media immediately after the verdict said that the judges had given an “illegal and unconstitutional decision” and made no effort to mask his extreme displeasure with the bench.
Agencies add: Presiding over an extraordinary meeting of the cabinet, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said the verdict was inappropriate and that he was still the premier even after being convicted.
He said the Pakistan People’s Party had always stood by the Constitution and would continue to do so. “Pakistan’s future would have been different, had the law of necessity not prevailed in the Maulvi Tameezuddin case,” he added.
Prime Minister Gilani thanked cabinet members for supporting him. The cabinet reposed full confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Gilani. The meeting was also attended on special invitation by the chief ministers of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan, the prime minister of Azad Kashmir, and governors of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab.