Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Daily Times Editorial March 11, 2015

IHC verdict A two-member bench of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) comprising Justice Noorul Haq Qureshi and Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui has upheld the death sentence of Mumtaz Qadri under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code while striking down his death sentence under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act. It may be recalled that Qadri was sentenced to death under both provisions by an Anti-Terrorism Court on October 1, 2011. His appeal before the IHC had been hanging fire since then. The IHC bench had reserved judgement on February 11 this year. On Monday, March 9, 2015, amidst tight security around the IHC and a ban on the entry of media and the general public, the bench pronounced its 64-page verdict. The court had little difficulty in coming to the conclusion that Qadri had committed premeditated murder in the light of the prosecution evidence and the stance of the accused himself. Qadri had unabashedly confessed to the murder, which his defence team had tried to paint as extreme provocation brought about by the late Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer’s criticism of the misuse and abuse to which the blasphemy law was being put. The Governor stood up for a poor Christian woman, Aasia bibi, accused of alleged blasphemy and sentenced to death. For this act of kindness, sympathy and truthfulness, Salmaan Taseer had 28 bullets from Qadri’s gun pumped into him from behind by a man charged with the duty of protecting the Governor. On the count of terrorism, however, the court allowed the appeal on the grounds that Qadri’s act had not caused fear or panic, and therefore could not be considered terrorism. With due respect to the honourable court, their lordships should ascertain people’s reactions to the horror that January 4, 2011. The overwhelming sentiment was that if even a Governor of the strongest province of the country was not safe in the hands of his security detail, who was? The court also failed to take into account the indirectly associated murder of Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti two months after Taseer’s assassination, also for demanding changes in the blasphemy law that has been open to so much abuse since it was first made more stringent by General Ziaul Haq. Nevertheless, the immediate effect of the ‘half-half’ ruling is likely to be that Qadri will not be going to the gallows any time soon. While his defence team rejoices at the reversal of the terrorism charge, they contemplate going to the Supreme Court (SC) in appeal against the remaining death sentence, while others amongst his fanatical supporters speculate about the possibility that, despite the IHC’s declaring the Anti-Terrorism Court entitled to hear the terrorism charge, pressing for a retrial by a sessions court for murder under Section 302 alone. Others dream of the pie-in-the-sky that Taseer’s family may forgive the murderer, allowing him to walk free. Of course, in the midst of Qadri’s supporters’ usual celebrations, amongst whom unfortunately must be counted a great many lawyers, advocates of the rule of law and critics of the much abused in practice blasphemy law will be less than happy. Unfortunately the government side seems tight-lipped and reluctant to commit to any appeal to the SC, citing the difficulty of finding lawyers to stand as prosecutors in the case. While a detailed perusal of the IHC verdict must wait, reports in the media outline the arguments examined by the bench in coming to its final conclusions. The judgement rightly condemns Qadri for relegating to himself the mantle of accuser, judge, jury and executioner without reference to his assigned duty, the law and the constitution. It also examines the defence team’s attempts to paint Qadri as motivated by purely religious zeal. The judgement quotes from Islamic history and the Prophet’s (PBUH) practice to demonstrate that even in Islam, no one is allowed to arbitrarily take the law into their own hands, even if blasphemy is involved. The verdict refers to the example of mercy practiced by the Prophet (PBUH) to forgive those who had strayed from the correct path and maligned him. The exception was those waging war against the newly formed Islamic state. On the touchstone of humanity, duty, religion and the law, therefore, the court found no mitigating circumstances and upheld the death penalty for premeditated murder. Only time will tell, however, whether the striking down of the terrorism charge will help the wily Qadri escape the retribution he so richly deserves.

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