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Pakistani PM To Appear in Court

November 12, 1997

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to appear in court next week on contempt charges.

Sharif is scheduled to appear Monday. He is accused of ridiculing the court and its chief justice, Sajjad Ali Shah, in comments he made to reporters last month outside the National Assembly.

Sharif could be disqualified as prime minister if found guilty of contempt.

The charges stem from a confrontation with the Supreme Court over the right to appoint judges. The serious dispute, which threatened to destabilize Sharif’s government, was settled two weeks ago when Sharif bowed to the chief justice and appointed five new judges to the Supreme Court, increasing the bench to 17 from 12.

Sharif’s supporters had hoped that the contempt charges would be dropped after he agreed to expand the bench and appoint the chief justice’s appointees.

By ordering Sharif to answer the charges, analysts in Pakistan say, the chief justice has revived his political battle with the prime minister.

At the height of his power struggle with Sharif, Shah resurrected corruption charges against the prime minister and suspended parts of a constitutional amendment that outlawed floor crossing on votes in the National Assembly, or lawmaking Lower House of Parliament.

Sharif publicly criticized Shah for suspending the amendment.

Three Pakistani journalists who reported Sharif’s comments and a handful of legislators who made similar comments to the Pakistani news media also must answer to contempt charges Monday.

Pakistan’s constitution makes it illegal for government officials to criticize the judiciary or discuss the conduct of judges outside Parliament, said a lawyer, Mohammed Ibrahim Sathi.

The court hearing comes at a bad time for Sharif: He is to meet on Monday with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is scheduled to arrive in Pakistan on Sunday and leave on Tuesday.

Update hourly