Mumtaz Qadri’s death penalty judgment divided Pakistani society on Saturday. Liberal voices hailed the verdict as a bold decision which would discourage people from taking the law into their own hands. Certain religious groups, however, expressed disdain for the anti-terrorism court’s (ATC) decision, declaring that Qadri had done no wrong.
Syed Iqbal Haider, former chief of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, welcomed the verdict. “I am happy that the ATC awarded the death sentence to him. I pray that the high court upholds it.’’ Farzana Bari, a human rights activist, echoed this view. “Being a human rights activist, I have always criticised the death penalty, but at the same time nobody is allowed to take the law into his own hands,” he said.
Former minister for information Sherry Rehman expressed her concern for the safety of the ATC judge. “It is the time for the state to show that its courts and judges are protected, and those who incite violence no longer have the cover of impunity,’’ she said.
Tahira Abdullah, another human rights activist, expressed different concerns. “I cannot comment until I read the complete judgment. However I am very much concerned about the kidnapping of Shahbaz Taseer who went missing and this decision should not have any impact on him,” she said.
Shuja ur Rehman, one of Qadri’s lawyers, described the decision as shameless and stated he would appeal. “I will go Lahore High Court, Rawalpindi Bench, against the decision within two days,” he added.
Abdur Rahim, chairman of the Namoos-e-Risalat Lawyers Forum Pakistan, also condemned the decision and vowed to struggle against the decision. He said the judgment was reached without a proper hearing of the defence lawyer’s position. “We will start protests from Monday and will move towards parliament against the decision,” he said.
Sahibzada Haji Fazal Karim, chairman of the Sunni Ittehad Council Pakistan also questioned the court’s ruling. “I don’t understand. If someone is guilty of blasphemy, he must be killed. It is clearly mentioned in Section 95(A) of Pakistan Penal Code. So why are some people politicizing this issue?” he said.
Protests in Lahore
In Lahore, hundreds of workers belonging to different religious parties rallied from Data Darbar to Faisal Chowk outside Assembly Hall after the verdict.
Demonstrators also held a sit-in for three hours outside Punjab Assembly and declared Qadri “a true hero of Muslims.”
Leaders of Tahafz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat Mahaz were prominent among the rally.
In Karachi, various Barelvi religious groups staged protests. The leaders condemned the death sentence also demanded that the government release Qadri in the same way they released American Raymond Davis. Religious organisations, including Sunni Tehreek and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan, staged a sit-in protest in front of Karachi Press Club.
Legal community divided on death sentence
Talking to The Express Tribune, several legal experts said they hoped Qadri would not seek a pardon from President Asif Ali Zardari and instead accept the decision.
President Lahore High Court Bar Association Asghar Ali Gill said that Qadri should have gone to court instead of killing Taseer. “It is not the proper way to either get or provide justice,” he said.
Advocate Rabia Bajwa told The Express Tribune that the blasphemy laws are in place and therefore Qadri should have fought Taseer in court. She added that Qadri deserved this verdict and he should be given death sentence.
Advocate Aftab Bajwa took a contrary view. He argued that criminals should not be awarded a death sentence in those cases in which an emotional element is involved. He said that the Supreme Court has made several decisions in the past in which the murderer was not given a death sentence. He said that in Qadri’s case life imprisonment would be more appropriate.
(With additional reporting by Karamat Bhatty and Rana Yasif in Lahore and Faraz Khan in Karachi)
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2011.