Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the self-confessed assassin of the former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, has been sentenced to death twice by the ATC (Anti Terrorism Court) on October 1 at the Adyala jail, Rawalpindi, Pakistan. It was on January 4 that Qadri, one of Taseer’s elite body guards, shot and killed the governor for his views on Pakistan’s Islamic blasphemy law outside a restaurant in Kohsar Market, Islamabad. ATC Justice Syed Pervez Ali Shah, said "slaying the late governor was a heinous crime and there is no justification for it."
Qadri had admitted before the judge that no one had compelled him to murder the former governor. A former constable in the Punjab Police and a member of the Elite Force, Qadri tried to justify his act of assassination by stating that he killed Salman Taseer for supporting Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death for supposed blasphemy. Taseer believed that Bibi had been wrongly convicted of committing blasphemy. After what Qadri claims was a brief verbal altercation, during which Taseer refused to back down from his stance, Qadri claims that he lost his temper and shot the governor in anger.
According to Qadri’s statement, he had approached the late governor on January 4 and tried to talk to him about his public support for Asia Bibi and his advocacy for the abolition of the blasphemy laws. Qadri’s defense attorneys adopted a simple strategy to save the self-confessed killer: Taseer’s statements were “unbecoming of a Muslim” and therefore Qadri, a devout Muslim, could not control his emotions and resorted to an instantaneous act. As a precautionary measure, the court hearing the case was also told that Taseer’s statements could have inflamed the passions of any Muslim which means that even if Qadri had not committed this heroic act, someone else would have.
Qadri`s lawyer, Raja Shujahur Rehman, told the media outside Adyala Jail that "my client had also submitted a written statement of 40 pages, referring to 11 Quranic verses, 28 quotes from Sunnah and several other eminent Muslim jurists with reference to Islamic jurisprudence. The prosecution raised no objection over the Qadri`s statement, therefore the court validly admitted this statement and made it a part of the court record."
Qadri’s lawyer defended Qadri’s actions as having come as a result of a sudden provocation, ‘automatism’ in legal terms, which as a defense means negating the existence of actus reus , the actual act of committing a crime. This is supplemented by referring to religion, religious teachings and the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad, not just to ground the automatism plea but to appeal to the court’s own conscience and piety. Implied in this is also a veiled threat that some issues stand above and beyond the law and institutional hierarchy and must be treated by a touchstone other than that which placed Taseer in a position of authority.
Ironically, this effect is to be achieved by referring to Taseer’s alleged conduct as having violating the blasphemy law and the inability or unwillingness of the state to proceed against him which, in this case, forced Qadri to act on his own. The inevitability of Taseer’s murder is argued by the defense was therefore, “if Qadri had not killed him, someone else would have.”
Far from showing any remorse, Qadri got launched into a sermon-like diatribe against Governor Taseer, attempting to justify his actions by quoting passages from the Quran, the sayings of Muhammad, as well as precedents in Islamic law.
Shujaur Rahman, one of Qadri’s lawyers, meanwhile, tried to smear the late governor’s personal character in a manner that was so disturbing as to prompt the judge and the prosecution lawyers to ask how such ad hominem attacks on the governor’s private life were relevant to the case. “He was a governor, a public office holder. He should not have acted like that and expressed views against the public sentiment,” said Rahman, apparently feeling he had adequately justified his actions.
It should be clear that Qadri’s lawyers were cleverly relying on areas of law even as their underlying argument is grounded in the justification of the act as being religious and supra-legal and therefore not to be judged on the basis of legalities.
The problem with this defence is not just its logical inconsistency but also the fact that Qadri’s act, from what we know, does not fall under the automatism plea. He murdered Taseer in cold blood and with meticulous planning. He was waiting for an opportunity and when he found it, he unleashed his firearm on a defenseless, unsuspecting man.
Justice Syed Pervez Ali Shah after completing arguments, sentenced Mumtaz Qadri to death twice under 302 PPC (Pakistan Penal Code) and 7,8 ATA ( Anti Terrorism Act). According to legal experts, Qadri has the right to appeal the verdict within seven days. Qadri`s lawyer Rehman said “We will appeal against the verdict at the High Court.” Mumtaz Qadri has been shifted to death row in the Adyala Jail, Rawalpindi.
Crowds gathered outside the jail to support Mumtaz Qadri and protested against the decision. They chanted slogans in support of Qadri and called him a hero. The decision has sparked protests by the religious parties on the Murree road in Rawalpindi. The religious parties have announced that they will launch country wide protests against the deicison and in support of Qadri.
Catholic Bishop Rufin Anthony of Rawalpindi/Islamabad said, “ Despite the pressure from the religious groups this is a very brave decision by the ATC. For the first time in Pakistan a person involved in the high profile assassination has been sentenced. Salman Taseer, an advocate of the reforms in the Blasphemy law, was silenced for his views: he took a stand for what he believed was right. Taseer didn’t offend anybody and nor did he use offensive words; he just asked for repealing a law that was put in place by a dictator and has caused a suffocating environment not just for non-Muslims but Muslims of this country, equally. We should uproot the cause too which instigated this man to take this heinous action. Qadri was celebrated as a hero. This insensitive and extremist ideology should be discouraged. Respecting people`s faith and emotions is a human quality, everyone has the right to follow his / her faith. It is not necessary for a person to agree with other people`s beliefs. We all need to work together towards a tolerant society."
Rodrick Samson is Spero correspondent in Pakistan.