An anti-terrorism court (ATC) has sentenced Mumtaz Qadri to death on two counts for the murder of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer in January this year. The self-confessed killer’s defence pleas, which invoked religious sentiments and argued the accused was provoked into the act, were dismissed by the court.
Qadri was employed as one of the governor’s bodyguards when he shot Taseer dead in Islamabad on January 4. In several court hearings, Qadri confirmed his motive for murder was Taseer’s call for a review of the country’s controversial blasphemy law.
Special Judge ATC-II Syed Pervez Ali Shah declared the judgment in the high-security Adiyala Prison in Rawalpindi. The court also imposed fines of Rs100,000 each for the two convictions of murder and terrorism.
Qadri held the unrepentant look he has maintained since confessing almost immediately after the murder. Those in court reported that on hearing the death sentence Qadri smiled, thanked Allah and said his dream had come true.
Dismissing Qadri’s pleas, the judge said: “A proven blasphemer is wajib-ul-qatal (liable to be killed). He cannot be forgiven. Only the Holy Prophet (PUBH) himself can forgive him. However at this stage two questions arise. Firstly, can a person who is leading a sinful life be termed an apostate? Secondly, if he is deemed an apostate, then who will execute him? Obviously individuals cannot be given the authority to judge someone an apostate, infidel or non-Muslim. Moreover, individuals can not be allowed to execute the punishment on such persons because it will pave the way for anarchy, turmoil, restlessness and lawlessness in society. Therefore the defence plea in this regard is not helpful to the accused.”
Rejecting the defence’s plea that the murder was a result of sudden provocation, the judge remarked: “The state ments of the governor about blasphemy laws were published in 2010, and the murder was committed on January 4, 2011. Further, it was not the plea of the accused that the deceased made these remarks in his presence. The accused himself put a provocative question to Taseer as he was coming out of a restaurant in Kohsar market and it was not the deceased who provoked the killer.”
Advocate Shujaur Rehman, one of three defence counsels, complained that his side were denied the opportunity to counter the prosecution’s concluding remarks. Qadri’s lawyers were also unhappy at the timing of the judgment, claiming they were not informed that the court would announce its verdict on Saturday. “The court conveyed the verdict to Qadri in the absence of his lawyers”, said the advocate.
According to Rehman, the defence was also not given time to file an application in court arguing that terrorism charges could not be levelled against Qadri.
Since Taseer’s assassination, only one prominent Pakistani politician has openly called for changes to the blasphemy legislation. This man, the Minister for Religious Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, was also murdered, and since his death no politician has raised the issue publicly.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2011.