Pak PM reaches SC to face contempt charge

Islamabad: Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Monday reached Pakistan`s Supreme Court to face a charge of contempt of court for refusing to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, the second premier to be summoned by the court on the same ground.

Ashraf was driven to the main entrance of the apex court in a SUV shortly after 9 am.

Several federal ministers, including Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira and Interior Minister Rehman Malik, and leaders of the ruling coalition arrived in the court earlier to appear alongside the premier as a show of solidarity.

The premier will appear before a five-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa to respond to a contempt of court charge for refusing to revive the graft cases against the President in Switzerland.

Both Kaira and Malik told reporters outside the court that the premier was appearing in the court as the ruling Pakistan People`s Party had always respected the judiciary despite decisions that had gone against the party, including the "judicial murder" of PPP founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

The two ministers further said they expected justice from the Supreme Court. In June, the apex court disqualified Ashraf`s predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, after convicting him of contempt for not acting on repeated orders to revive the corruption cases against Zardari.

Legal experts have said Ashraf could face the same fate as Gilani. A meeting of leaders of the ruling coalition chaired by Zardari late last night decided that the premier would appear in court despite reservations expressed by several top PPP leaders. A section of the party, including Gilani, was opposed to Ashraf`s appearance in the court as it believes that it would make no difference.

Deputy Prime Minister Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi, a leader of the PML-Q, said a consensus situation was made regarding the premier`s appearance in court on Monday.

Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim said the PPP had always respected the judiciary but according to the Constitution, a person like the premier could not be punished twice for the same matter.

Information Minister Kaira noted that former premier Gilani had appeared in court three times and that the PPP had accepted his disqualification despite reservations. "We didn`t accept the decision in our hearts but we obeyed it. Today, we are appearing again because we respect the judiciary," he said. Extensive security measures were put in place for the premier`s appearance in the apex court.

About 700 policemen and additional personnel of the Pakistan Rangers and Frontier Corps were deployed to guard the "red zone" where the Supreme Court and other key buildings like the parliament are located.

A helicopter was used to conduct surveillance of the area. The Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to revive the cases against the President since December 2009, when it struck down a graft amnesty that benefited Zardari and over 8,000 others.

The government has refused to act, saying the President enjoys immunity in Pakistan and abroad.