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Pakistan: Court Rules Determines Only Federal Government Can Bring Treason Charges

(Aug. 17, 2011) On August 10, 2011, the Lahore High Court in Pakistan ruled that only the federal government has jurisdiction to charge a person with high treason. The ruling came in a case brought by a private citizen, attempting to charge Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani with subverting the Constitution. The judge recommended that if the citizen, Allah Bakhsh Gondal, wished to pursue the case, he and his attorney, A.K. Dogar, should challenge the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973 (Act LXVIII of 1973, 18 THE PAKISTAN CODE, WITH CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE AND INDEX 274-275 (1979)). That Act states that only the government can charge treason. Dogar argued that every citizen should have the right to initiate proceedings on treason charges, not just the federal government. ('Allow Citizens to Initiate Treason Cases', THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE (Aug. 12, 2011); Only Centre Can Initiate High Treason Case, Rules LHC, THE NEWS ONLINE (Aug. 12, 2011), World News Connection online subscription database, Doc. No. 201108121477.1_22bc00dbdf48ebdf.)

The basis of the case against Gilani is Gondal's argument that the Prime Minister subverted the Constitution through defiance of court orders. (THE CONSTITUTION OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF PAKISTAN, National Assembly website (July 31, 2004).) Dogar traced the conflict between the government and the judiciary to December 2009, when the Supreme Court of the country ruled that the National Reconciliation Ordinance was unconstitutional. Dogar stated that in the 19 months since that ruling, the decision has not been implemented. He also mentioned the lack of action in a major corruption case involving President Asif Zardari and the fact that a Lahore High Court order from May of 2011 related to that case was ignored by the Prime Minister. (THE NEWS ONLINE, supra.)