ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani appeared before the Supreme Court on Thursday in the contempt of court case against him and cited immunity for not writing a letter to the Swiss authorities.
“Before me, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Nusrat Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto also faced courts,” Gilani said. He added that the legal background to why he did not write the letter would be explained by his counsel Aitzaz Ahsan.
Ahsan said that the prime minister was advised by the Law Ministry to not write a letter against the president. “I had been publicly saying that writing the letter would not make any difference,” Ahsan said.
Justice Asif Saeed Khosa observed the court could write his statement down, but Ahsan replied in the negative, stating that his position and merits of this case were different.
Ahsan added that he would establish from record that the prime minister acted bonafide in not writing a letter to the Swiss authorities.
Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmani observed the basis of establishing his bonafide was linked with the question of immunity under Article 248 of the Constitution.
“My case pertains to the issuance of contempt notice alone. I don’t raise the immunity issue before the court,” Ahsan said.
Ahsan said the media created an impression as if the court had already made up its mind against the prime minister. However, Justice Mulk said that he had not read a single article or watched a show since he took up the matter.
The hearing was adjourned till February 1 after Ahsan requested the court for more time to seek relevant documents in the case.
Justice Tariq Mehmood, talking to the media after the hearing, said that he has faith in the judiciary that it will pass a verdict that is in line with the law and the Constitution.
The dignity of the court should not be ruled out, he added.
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and other Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leaders also accompanied the premier at the court.
The case was heard by a seven-member bench headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk.
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Supporters of the judiciary, gathered outside the court, started chanting slogans against the government while Aitzaz Ahsan was talking to the media.
Qamar Zaman Kaira swiftly escorted Ahsan out as the chants made it impossible for the barrister to talk.
No other PPP leader came to the rostrum to speak to the media after Ahsan left.
Aitzaz Ahsan, while talking to the media, after the hearing, said that it was a big day for the law, Constitution and the judiciary of the country that the counrty's prime minister came to the court himself.
“This indicates the majesty of the law and the majesty of the Supremre Court,” he added.
The hearing of the case has ended and Prime Minister Gilani has left the court.
“The court wanted some clarifications and the prime minister decided to attend himself. This is something the court and media should appreciate,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik had told the reporters before the hearing.
PPP spokesman Qamar Zaman Kaira said Gilani’s acceptance of the court summons “shows his respect” for the country’s highest court.
“We fight cases in the courts, we do not fight with courts,” Kaira added.
Gilani, while speaking in front of the bench, had said, “I have come today to show my respect to this court… It will not give a good message to proceed against a president who is elected by a two-thirds majority.”
Law Minister Maula Bux Chandio remarked that the PM’s presence in the court signifies the independence of judiciary.
The court exempted PM Gilani from further hearings saying that it was not necessary for him to appear in next hearings.
The court said that this was a short order and not a final verdict.
Aitzaz Ahsan had claimed that the contempt case against the PM was not appropriate.
The court gives 15 days time to Aitzaz Ahsan to prepare for the case, and to reply to the show-cause notice issued to PM Gilani.
The court proceedings have been halted, and the judges are holding a discussion.
The court has begun writing a short order and the hearing has been adjourned till February 1.
Aitzaz Ahsan has asked for one more month to understand the case, and said that he does not have enough details at the moment.
Aitzaz Ahsan sought more time from the larger bench saying that his client had not given him enough time to prepare for the case.
Justice Nasirul Mulk remarked that Ahsan can have two more days to obtain relevant documents in the case.
Several PPP leaders and MPAs are present outside the court in a large number and are chanting slogans in favour of the party.
Aitzaz Ahsan said that one paragraph of the NRO verdict was related to the president, however, the Constitution gives him immunity and the court should see the Constitution’s restrictions in his case.
Justice Khosa inquired whether the government will write the letter or not, but Ahsan said that an inquiry can be held against President Asif Ali Zardari only when he is not the president.
Ahsan added that the Constitution gives immunity to the post of the president and not to Asif Ali Zardari in particular.
Justice Sarmad also inquired why the government has not been writing the letter since two years.
Gilani’s counsel Aitzaz Ahsan appeared before the bench and reiterated his stance that the president has immunity. The court replied saying that it has been asking the government since 2009 to act upon the case, but no one has come in all these years to talk about president's immunity.
Ahsan added that the government should have written the letter to the Swiss authorities.
Gilani, while giving his speech before the bench, said that his party, the PPP, has always respected the judiciary.
He justified himself in front of the bench saying that he did not write the letter to Swiss authorities as ordered because the president has complete immunity.
The prime minister, in his closing remarks, said that President Asif Ali Zardari has immunity in Pakistan as well as abroad.
He added that he will appear before the court as many times as he is summoned.
Justice Asif Saeed Khosa has remarked that it is a big day in the history of Pakistan.
At least 46 other people, including Asfandyar Wali, Chaudhry Shujaat, Israrullah Zehri and Muneer Orakzai, are expected to accompany the prime minister during the hearing.
Earlier this week, a seven-judge bench issued a contempt of court notice to Prime Minister Gilani and asked him to personally appear before the court to explain his government’s failure to implement its earlier verdict to reopen cases closed under the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO).
Officials have been tight-lipped on what the prime minister and his lawyer will say, but commentators doubt that Gilani will decide to risk six months in jail and being stripped of office.
His lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, has said Gilani may as well do what the court wants and write to Switzerland because Zardari has immunity from prosecution as long as he remains in office.
Supreme Court judges have six options on how to proceed which include finding Gilani in contempt, disqualifying the prime minister and president, and holding early elections.