Moving, slowly, haltingly, towards justice

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was gunned down in Islamabad by Malik Mumtaz Qadri on January 4, 2011 in broad daylight. Qadri, who was part of Mr Taseer’s security detail, confessed that he had indeed killed the late governor. On Monday, an anti-terrorism court charged Qadri with terrorism and murder. Qadri was asked by the judge whether he intentionally killed Mr Taseer to which he said that he acted “in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Quran and Sunnah because he [Mr Taseer] had committed blasphemy”, thus his action was justified. The next hearing of the case is on February 26. It was decided that the court would now continue hearing of this case on a weekly basis.

Finally we seem to be moving towards justice for Mr Taseer. This case is quite sensitive. Lawyers were unwilling to take up Mr Taseer’s case in view of the right-wing forces’ support for his assassin Mumtaz Qadri. The prosecutor had initially pulled out when the government did not provide adequate security. Fortunately, the situation has now been remedied. It is indeed brave of the state prosecutor and the judge to proceed with the case given the precarious security situation surrounding this case. Their courage has been strengthened by the shifting of the case to inside Adiala Jail after the troubling public manifestations of support for Qadri by right-wing lawyers and others at his appearances emerged.

The issue of blasphemy has always been a sensitive subject in Pakistan, especially after General Ziaul Haq tampered with the blasphemy laws and made the death penalty mandatory. Many people accused of blasphemy were killed by angry mobs or individuals before or during their trial. Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti of the Lahore High Court was killed because he had acquitted two men accused of alleged blasphemy on the basis that the case against them could not be proved. Human rights organisations have been asking for repeal or amendment of this man-made and flawed law for decades now. In 2010, Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman, was handed down a death sentence for alleged blasphemy. She was the first woman to be given a death sentence in a blasphemy case. Aasia Bibi’s case led to an anti-blasphemy laws campaign once again. (Late) Salmaan Taseer visited her in jail in November last year. It opened up a Pandora’s Box and the religious right erupted in anger. Fatwas (edicts) were issued left, right and centre against Mr Taseer. In the end, he paid with his life for raising his voice against injustice. The death of a brave man should have jolted the people of Pakistan from their deep slumber. Instead, there was an unexpected reaction. Except for a small number of people, most Pakistanis either kept quiet on his death or hailed Qadri as a hero. The government’s spinelessness on the blasphemy issue strengthened the religious right, who then came out in large numbers to warn the government in case it ever decided to change or repeal the blasphemy laws. Finally, the government gave in to their demands and assured that no one will so much as even touch these flawed laws.

On the day of his indictment, some students left flowers and Valentine’s Day gifts for Qadri at Adiala Jail. Two clerics – Hanif Qureshi and Ishtiaq Shah – whose sermons allegedly inspired Qari to commit this heinous crime, were also present outside the jail in support of Qadri. In the backdrop of all these events, it is commendable that despite threats and intimidation, the prosecution and the court are going ahead with the case and Qadri has been indicted for murder. The assassination of a serving governor, and that too one who at the risk of his life stood against injustice, is no small matter. It is hoped that the trial will continue without any further hurdles and the ends of justice will be served.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


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