"Release Mumtaz Qadri: the hero of Islam!," "By punishing one Mumtaz Qadri, you will produce a thousand Mumtaz Qadris!": these are the slogans being chanted by Mumtaz Qadri`s supporters across Pakistan when the Anti Terrorism Court sentenced him to death for the assassination of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer. On October 1, the ATC announced its finding at Adyala Jail in Rawalpindi. Justice Syed Pervez Ali Shah was escorted by the police out of the jail through another gate due to the furious supporters gathered outside. Large police contingents were deployed at the jail gate to prevent any break in. Several supporters blocked the road outside the jail and chanted slogans. Some recited verses from the Quran while members of the Sunni Tehreek group waved their party’s green and yellow flags. A Qadri supporter, wiping tears from his face, said, “We don’t accept this. We don’t accept this.”
The City Police Officer in charge deployed officers all over the city to avoid any further escalation of the furor. The Sunni Tehreek, a religious leader, declared the verdict as politically motivated. Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat also rejected the death sentence and demanded immediate reversal of the decision. The protestors in Rawalpindi blocked the Adyala Road, Ketchery chowk, Murree Road, burning tires and vandalizing the memorial to fallen Benazir Bhutto`s at Liquat Bagh.
Sunni Tehreek leader Sarwat Ijaz Qadri opined that the court made the decision against Qadri in bad faith, saying “We will appeal against the decision at the High Court. The ATC did not give heed to the Quran and the Sunna. The judge has announced the verdict to please the Jewish lobby. The ATC should have praised Qadri for his heroic act and release him immediately."
On October 1, Islamic religious parties took to the streets in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi in protest against the court, shouting slogans against the government and the judge who sentenced Qadri. The protestors forced the trade unions to shut down their business and join the protests. Even though the Lahore High Court had recently banned rallies on The Mall following complaints by businesses and traders that their stores and shops had been damaged and vandalized during protests. Even so, protestors defied the ban and took to the streets, burning tires and destroying public property.
In Karachi, TNR leader Maulana Abbas Qasim said, "several years ago a judge in Punjab declared two young Christian boys not guilty of blasphemy. The judge was shot dead by another fanatic. The cleric claimed to have met with the killer in prison and claimed that the man’s actions were justified because his face was full of Noor (heavenly light). Mumtaz Qadri`s face is also filled with noor as he killed a man who was supporting the repeal of the Blasphemy law. Qadri a true follower of Prophet Muhammad, will be awarded richly by Allah. Even though Salman Taseer was a "Murtad" liable to be killed for going against the Prophet Muhammad), we are still ready to pay a heavy compensation to Taseer`s family as diyat ( Blood Money). Every Muslim must join in to save our brother."
Mufti Hanif Qureshi addressed a protest in Rawalpindi and said, "Our lawyers quoting the Quran and Hadith had proved in the court that Taseer had committed blasphemy. After Taseer took the law into his hands, no court ever took notice of his action. Sunni Tehreek had offered 100 million as "Diyat" while a politican from Rawalpindi has also offered 50 million... Mumtaz Qadri`s action is justified as he is a true Muslim and couldn’t bear to hear anything against the beloved Prophet Muhammad. Same will be the fate of the Christian Blasphemer Asia Bibi."
Haroon Barkat Masih, Chairman Masihi Foundation a human rights organization which is the defense for Asia Bibi - a Christian woman sentenced to death for alleged defamation of islam – stated "Death is not something to celebrate, we celebrate justice.....Qadri’s sentence, unfortunate as it is when we consider the sanctity of human life. We support the work of the judiciary, it is a very courageous decision on behalf of the court. Let’s not rejoice in the pain this man shall suffer but let’s rejoice over the fact that for once, at least, justice has prevailed For the first time in Pakistan, a person involved in a high profile murder has been condemned. Our constitution gives us the freedom to express our views freely. If i say the blasphemy law is immoral and should be repealed, does this mean someone should come and kill me? "
Fr Francis Xavier from the Catholic Diocese of Lahore said, "Even if Taseer did something against the law (since the blasphemy law is written in Pakistan’s constitution), he should have been tried for it in court as per the law and then penalized. Unloading two magazines of a machine gun into someone you’re paid to protect at point blank range on a whim is no justice, it’s beastliness. Even Islamic law has to be administered through an official court system, not by self-righteous emotionally-charged (and potentially deranged) individuals. Assume for the sake of the argument that Taseer had crossed a line. Exegetes agree that he would still have the luxury of a trial and a defence. Let’s now assume that Qadri is right in saying that the state did not act against Taseer. He, like any other citizen of this country, could have taken the issue to the court. But he did not because he wanted to emerge a hero and in this country that means committing a spectacular act of violence in the name of Islam. He is already a hero, a murderer raised to the level of a saint that is even respected by the jail staff. Imagine if he is let off."
Anglican Bishop Alexander John Malik said, "In my view it is very good decision by ATC in the light of laws of country. It will set an example for the people. I am against capital punishment. No one has right to kill someone for any reason. But sometimes it is necessary to take bold decisions in order to ensure the rule of the law, no one is above the law. Salman Taseer was the hope for oppressed minorities of Pakistan, because in the name of the religion, there have been serious human rights violations since the 1973 Constitution were changed to accommodate amendments in the name of blasphemy. This has made the lives of members of minority communities miserable. Vested interests have made the most of these draconian laws in the wake of personal hatred and killed many an innocent person in the name of blasphemy. There is a need to redo the law, removing the draconian clauses so that no vested interest should be able to exploit the law. By eliminating such clauses no one would be able to become like Mumtaz Qadri; no would make wrong use of law for evil ends."
Rodrick Samson is Spero correspondent in Pakistan.