On the call of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC, a coalition of Islamic parties), many Islamic political parties and a banned terrorist group, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), closer to Al Qaeda, held countrywide rallies on Oct. 7 for the release of a Muslim assassin, Mumtaz Ahmed Qadri. Along with those small demonstrations, a partial strike was also observed in many cities of Pakistan.
Generally, people did not reply to the call of SIC and in Karachi (the biggest city of the country with 18 million people) only 1,000 demonstrators gathered to protest against the court’s judgment against Qadri. For those parties, Qadri is a hero who killed a “blasphemer.” For many observers, Friday’s rallies and the call of a countrywide strike got a very poor response.
Qadri, an Islamic zealot and a security guard of Punjab Elite Force, killed one of the country's top liberal politicians, Governor Salman Taseer, in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan, on Jan. 4 this year.
Judge Pervez Ali Shah of an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Adiala Jail Rawalpindi, twin city of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, on Oct.1, awarded a two-time death sentence and a fine of Rs.200,000 (US$2,300) to Qadri, 26. The ATC court announced in its verdict, during the in-camera hearing, that no one could be given the licence to kill anyone in any condition, and the killer had committed a heinous crime.
Governor Taseer, a Muslim by faith, urged reform of controversial Islamic blasphemy laws, which were introduced by an Islamic General Zia-ul-Haq in 1980s, and supporting a poor Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi, convicted of blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad. Rights groups have said the blasphemy laws have been used to persecute minorities, especially Christians in Pakistan.
Unfortunately, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) lead government, which earlier had planned to reform the blasphemy laws, dropped the proposals after the murder of its own party leader, Mr. Taseer.
Qadri, along with many other Muslims fanatics, had a view that Mr. Taseer committed blasphemy to oppose the existing blasphemy laws. While human rights activists say that the calling for a repeal of the blasphemy law is a democratic right of every citizen of the state and does not constitute blasphemy.
Qadri has not only been getting support and praise by the Islamic groups of Pakistan, but some members of civil society are also supporting his action of murder. When he was first brought before a court nine months ago, a reasonable group of Muslim lawyers along with Bar Council’s office bearers showered him with flower petals and chanted slogans in his favour.
The verdict gave Qadri the right to appeal in the high court within seven days. Therefore, his lawyer on Oct. 6 filed an appeal against his death sentence.
Taseer’s killing was the most high-profile political assassination in Pakistan since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto murdered in an attack in Rawalpindi in December 2007. Governor Taseer was Bhutto’s loyalist. During a protest march in Rawalpindi, a remembrance site of Bhutto was also damaged by Islamists.
The Islamic parties have been organizing street protest rallied in different parts of the country, especially in Punjab province. In Lahore (the capital of Punjab), they held protest rallies on Mall Road, the major road of the city. Under the law, it is illegal to have demonstrations and protest rallies on this road, but the members of Islamic religious parties defied the law because the provincial government of Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) unwilling to stop them. Ideologically, PML-N is very close to the Islamic parties. The Law Minister Rana Sana Ullah attended a public rally of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a banned terrorist group, in Jhang.
It is interesting to note that many killers and terrorists, who use the name of religion to justify their inhuman and brutal action, are heroes of these parties; and also by their protest rallies against the court’s verdict, these groups clearly send messages that they do not believe in Pakistan’s justice system, which is generally on their side.
The Islamic protestors in Lahore called Justice Shah a non-Muslim, and one of the speakers in a rally offered five million rupees (US$58,000) for the Justice Shah’s murder. Unfortunately, the law enforcement agencies did not take any notice of that murder call. It is learnt by Minorities Concern of Pakistan that Justice Shah has stopped coming to court because of the security reasons.
Moreover, Taji Khokar, a member of a political family of the capital, offers Rs.50 Million (US$580,000) diyat (blood money under the Islamic laws) to Taseer’s family to save Qadri. Alongside, Salmaan Taseer’s son Shahbaz Taseer was kidnapped on Aug. 26 allegedly by Taliban. There was rumours that Taliban would release Mr. Taseer if Qadri’s would be released. Regrettably, the Punjab government of Mian Shahbz Sharif is not taking much interest for the recovery of Governor Taseer’s son.
“The so-called religious clerics always manage to herd the poor and ignorant populace in the name of religion, while silencing any opposition by threatening retribution and dire consequences, Gulmina Bilal Ahmad writes in Daily Times, a Pakistani English newspaper, on Sept. 30, 2011.
According to the daily Independent, London, Farzana Shaikh, a scholar attached to Chatham House and the author of Making Sense of Pakistan, does not think that there is anyone who seriously believes that this sentence will be carried out. She said, “Remember Omar Saeed Sheikh, the killer of Daniel Pearl? He's untouchable, as I suspect Qadri will be.”
Sunni Tehrik and other religious parties rejected the verdict calling it worse judgment than the English court which awarded death sentence to IIam Din, a Muslim, who killed a Hindu Rajpal for his alleged blasphemy in 1930s during the British Raj.
The Roman Catholic bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, Rufin Anthony told Asia News: "Qadri betrayed his trust and murdered the person he swore to protect. Those who in this case argue that Quaid-e-Azam, Father and Founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was the lawyer for the first blasphemy case of IIam Din and tried to save him from capital punishment must understand that Mr. Jinnah was not the trial lawyer for Ilam Din. Jinnah only represented him in the appeal against the death sentence. Jinnah sought compassion from the court pleading the boy’s tender age. He did not defend the action of Ilam Din, i.e. killing of Rajpal as justified."
Aftab Alexander Mughal is the Editor of Minorities Concern of Pakistan and is a Spero News contributor.