Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on Monday was formally charged with contempt of court by the Supreme Court for refusing to follow its order to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

With the Prime Minister — who appeared in court for the second time in less than a month — pleading not guilty, a seven-judge Bench ordered a trial. It appointed Attorney-General Anwar-ul Haq as the prosecutor, thus creating a curious situation in which the government's main legal adviser will be pitted against the sitting Prime Minister.

The two-page charge sheet, read out by Justice Nasir-ul Mulk, who heads the Bench, said the Prime Minister had violated Article 204 of the Constitution by not writing to the Swiss authorities to reopen money-laundering cases against Mr. Zardari as had been ordered by the court. He had also violated Paragraph 178 of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) implementation case.

Mr. Gilani has been exempted from personal appearance till further notice and the Attorney-General has been asked to present relevant documents on February 16. Mr. Gilani's lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan was asked to submit relevant evidence by February 22 after he sought time till February 24 to reply, as he would be overseas in between.

Amid tight security and persistent rain, the Prime Minister himself drove to the court minutes before he was to be charged, after his intra-court appeal against the contempt of court order was dismissed on Friday last. Jostled by lawyers, Mr. Gilani's security detail had a tough time escorting him to Court No. IV as he repeatedly turned around to wave to his supporters among lawyers. A number of federal ministers, governors of two provinces and members of the ruling coalition were in attendance.

Mr. Gilani spent a little over 30 minutes on the court premises before driving away. Leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which heads the ruling coalition, called it a “sad day in the history of Pakistan,” as for the first time an incumbent Prime Minister had been charged.

Though PPP workers have been obliquely questioning the courts, Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan maintained the official line. “We are hopeful of getting justice. The PPP has struggled for strengthening the judiciary and democratic institutions and will continue to do so.”

As for the Prime Minister challenging the court decision, she said: “That is his right.”

After the hearing, leaders of the parties that constitute the ruling coalition met at the Prime Minister's house and expressed solidarity with him.

In a related development indicative of the government's determination not to write to the Swiss authorities, President's spokesman Farhatullah Babar told reporters that Mr. Zardari enjoyed immunity and would continue to do so until necessary changes were made in the Constitution.

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