Will appeal against SC verdict: Aitzaz Ahsan

Islamabad: The Pakistan government today decided to appeal Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani`s conviction of contempt of court, with the premier`s lawyer saying the Supreme Court`s verdict was "beyond the scope" of the charges framed against him.

Speaking hours after a seven-judge bench of the apex court convicted Gilani and gave him a symbolic sentence that lasted about 30 seconds, the premier`s lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, said: "The Prime Minister, the cabinet and (the Pakistan People`s Party`s) allies have decided to appeal this order and I`ve been authorised to prepare the appeal".

The government has 30 days to file the appeal, Ahsan told a news conference at which Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira too was present.

Once the appeal is filed, the apex court will have to hear the matter afresh and any grounds for the possible disqualification of the premier "cannot survive", Ahsan said.
"What I`m saying is not about fairness or unfairness the verdict…is beyond the scope of the indictment or charge. The Prime Minister was never indicted for allegedly scandalising or defaming the court," Ahsan said.

"The verdict is beyond the scope of the charge and hence beyond the scope of the trial. To that extent, the verdict will be deemed as observations of court," he added. Kaira said the cabinet, the PPP and its allies believe that Gilani is "not convicted on a charge of disqualification and there is no blot on our conscience".

The apex court convicted Gilani of contempt for failing to act on repeated orders to reopen cases of alleged money laundering against President Asif Ali Zardari in Switzerland. Gilani and the government had refused to act against Zardari, saying the President enjoyed complete immunity in Pakistan and abroad.

The Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to reopen the cases against Zardari since December 2009, when it struck down a graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf. The ruling PPP has accused the judiciary of acting in a biased manner as it has been pushing for action only against Zardari though the amnesty had benefited over 8,000 people.

Shortly after the apex court announced its verdict, Gilani chaired a special meeting of his cabinet, which decided that there was no need for him to resign on moral grounds as he had not been convicted of a criminal offence. "It is an issue of interpretation and the Prime Minister has been punished in a political case," Information Minister Kaira told the news conference.

Ahsan, one of Pakistan`s leading lawyers, said there was "no automatic or immediate disqualification" of the premier. "The Prime Minister is not disqualified at this moment," Ahsan said.

Referring to the proceedings in the Supreme Court, Ahsan said they were akin to a person being accused of murder and being "punished without any evidence" for theft.

The question of disqualification would have to be decided by the Speaker of the National Assembly or lower house of parliament, who would refer it to the Election Commission if necessary, he said. Besides, any sentence of less than two years does not disqualify lawmaker, Ahsan noted.