Would rather face jail than death sentence, says Pak PM

Would rather face jail than death sentence, says Pak PM

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani today said he would rather go to jail for committing contempt of court than violate the Constitution by acting on the Supreme Court's ultimatum to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Gilani's remarks at two public events in Bahawalpur region of Punjab province marked an escalation in the standoff between the PPP-led government and the Supreme Court, which has been pushing the premier to revive cases of alleged money laundering against the President in Switzerland.

"If I write (to the Swiss authorities), then I violate the Constitution because parliament has given the President immunity in Pakistan and abroad.

"The punishment for violating the Constitution is mentioned in Article 6, which is the death sentence," Gilani told a gathering at Malsi in Bahawalpur district.

On the other hand, Gilani said, he had been charged with contempt for failing to act on the apex court's order and could face a six-month prison term.

"Tell me, should I violate the Constitution and write (to the Swiss authorities) and face the death sentence?.    ..Which is better – a six- month jail term or the death sentence?" he asked.

Gilani raised the same issue while addressing students during a convocation at Bahawalpur Islamia University, and at both places the audience said he should face a six-month prison term.

"I have already served five years in prison earlier and I can serve six more months. What difference does it make?" the premier told the gathering at Malsi.

At the Bahawalpur Islamia University, students shouted that he should not write to the Swiss authorities to revive the cases.

Gilani said he had decided that he would not take any unconstitutional step.
The charge of contempt against him would undermine parliament, which gives immunity to the President, he added.

The premier said he had once declared himself the brother of slain PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto and would never think of betraying the party.

"Would the Prime Minister stab his own President in the back?" he asked.
The PPP and its leadership had made many sacrifices for democracy, he said.
"Had there been no democracy, there would be no free judiciary," he remarked.
He said he had always stressed that parliament must complete its tenure irrespective of whether the Prime Minister remains in office.

Gilani accused the PPP's detractors of hatching conspiracies on issues like the mysterious memo that had sought US help to stave off a feared military coup in Pakistan last year.

However, the party had succeeded in bypolls and elections to the Senate or upper house of parliament despite these conspiracies, he said.

The Supreme Court last week set March 21 as the deadline for the Prime Minister to approach Swiss authorities to reopen the cases against Zardari.

The court will resume hearing the contempt case against Gilani the same day.
The apex court recently indicted Gilani for contempt after he refused to act on repeated orders to reopen the cases against Zardari.

The court has been pressuring the government to revive the cases since December 2009, when it struck down the National Reconciliation Ordinance, a graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

The government has refused to act, saying the President enjoys complete immunity from prosecution within Pakistan and abroad.