Pakistan’s prime minister found guilty of contempt

The New York Times reports: Pakistan’s top court convicted Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani of contempt on Thursday, imposing a token sentence that deflated some of the political pressure around the case, but which could result in Mr. Gilani’s ouster.

Facing a courtroom packed with lawyers, cabinet ministers and journalists, Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk issued a strongly worded verdict that found Mr. Gilani guilty of “disobedience” toward the Supreme Court and bringing “ridicule” on its judges.

But instead of jailing the prime minister for six months, as the law provides, the judge imprisoned him only until the court adjourned — an event that occurred seconds later when Mr. Gilani, by then smiling toward his supporters, was still seated.

The courtroom drama brought an immediate sense of relief that a feared institutional clash had at least temporarily abated. But it also signaled that the drama was moving from the judicial into the political arena.

After the hearing, Mr. Gilani, dressed in a traditional long coat, left the court amid a scrum of cheering supporters before speeding off to a cabinet meeting about the crisis. Political rivals, declaring that his moral authority had collapsed, called for his immediate resignation.

“Prime minister should immediately resign,” the opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, told the private television station Geo. “He should step down without causing further crisis.”

But at a news conference hours later, the information minister, Qamar Zaman Kaira, said the cabinet had decided there were no grounds for resignation.

The lenient sentence was a victory for Mr. Gilani and the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, which has been locked in legal battle with the Supreme Court since January. At issue is a letter that the court has ordered Mr. Gilani to write to prosecutors in Switzerland, effectively urging them to revive a dormant corruption case against his boss, President Asif Ali Zardari.

Mr. Gilani has flatly refused the order, citing Mr. Zardari’s immunity from prosecution, drawing the ire of senior judges who viewed his stance as a brazen challenge to their authority.

But some analysts said that, after months of high-profile hearings that drew uncompromising rhetoric from both sides, Thursday’s verdict signaled a retreat for the court in legal terms.

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