The verdict in the Salmaan Taseer assassination case is in and it comes as a pleasant surprise. Eight months after Taseer’s guard, Mumtaz Qadri, should him dead in cold blood, an anti-terrorist court has found him guilty on two counts and handed down the death penalty as punishment. Justice may have been slow but it has ultimately been served. Qadri’s guilt was never in doubt. He confessed to the assassination and a possible acquittal was dependent on either convincing the judge that Taseer essentially deserved to be killed for daring to stand up for a poor Christian woman accused for blasphemy or rousing the passions of the violent religious right to such an extent that no judge would dare convict him.
The verdict may be in but this is no time to let our guard down. Just because Qadri has been handed down a death sentence does not mean that the judge who had the courage to dispense justice should be given a death sentence too. The judge’s verdict was a brave one and he now needs to be given protection by the state. As for Qadri, his lawyers now have seven days to file an appeal with the high court. Given that he has a high-powered legal team, it is inevitable that the sentence will be appealed. The judges who hear the appeal will need to show the same bravery as the anti-terrorist court judge who found Qadri guilty despite the danger associated with coming to that verdict. There is also the possibility that Qadri’s freedom will be used as a bargaining chip by those who kidnapped Taseer’s son Shahbaz more than a month ago and one hope things do not come to that.
Now would also be a good time to reflect on what the assassination of Salmaan Taseer has shown us about the nation. That his killer was showered with rose petals by lawyers as he made his way to court, that Qadri was treated as a hero by many and that many people essentially believe that Taseer got what was coming to him is a reflection of a country that has lost its moral bearing. And while Taseer’s killer may have been found guilty, the governor’s lonely crusade to free Aasia bibi and amend the unjust blasphemy laws has not found many takers.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2011.