Taseer case verdict

An anti-terrorism court (ATC) sentenced slain Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer’s self-confessed murderer Mumtaz Qadri to death on two counts for murder and terrorism and fined him Rs 200,000. On January 4 this year, Mr Taseer was shot dead in broad daylight by Qadri, one of the Punjab governor’s bodyguards, while the rest of his security detail silently looked on and did not budge to stop this hideous murder from taking place. ATC’s Judge Syed Pervaiz Ali Shah dismissed Qadri’s defence in which he took the plea that he had killed Mr Taseer for his alleged ‘blasphemous’ statements. Judge Shah said there is no room for such defence under the law. Qadri’s counsel have announced that they will file an appeal against the verdict in the High Court in seven days. It remains to be seen what the outcome of such an appeal would be.

Meanwhile, Mumtaz Qadri’s supporters came out on the streets to protest against the verdict. While defending a cold-blooded murderer, his supporters went one step ahead and put head money on Judge Shah for awarding a double death penalty to Qadri. It is extremely important for the government to ensure that such blood-curdling threats do not pass unnoticed. The government should provide foolproof security to Judge Shah whose life is now under grave threat from Qadri’s supporters. The protestors also condemned the government for its ‘biased policy’. Police in Lahore was unable to disperse Qadri’s supporters who were in clear violation of the government and Lahore High Court’s (LHC’s) orders not to hold protest demonstrations on The Mall, Lahore. The Sunni Tehreek even offered to pay Rs 200 million to the heirs of Salmaan Taseer as diyat (blood money) in lieu of Qadri’s release. The ‘take it or leave it’ tone of this ‘offer’ is quite worrying. Nobody has the right to coerce anyone to accept diyat but it seems that Qadri’s fanatical supporters think otherwise. The Taseer family has been under great pressure for the last nine months since Mr Taseer was assassinated. It has now been over a month since Shahbaz Taseer, son of late Salmaan Taseer, was kidnapped by unknown men in Lahore. To put further pressure on them under such circumstances is part of tested tactics of the religious right to function on the basis of intimidation and pressure. A spurious campaign against the slain governor was initiated by religious clerics and right wing fanatics all over the country, which ultimately led to his assassination.

The Punjab government should prevent such hate-mongering rallies in the province. Though the Punjab government is known to be soft on the religious right either because of being their sympathisers or fear, it is their duty to stop these fanatical elements. Members of the Tahafuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat Mahaz and other such organisations that gave open threats to Judge Shah and other government functionaries should be hauled up immediately. The federal government has not done much either in curbing extremist ideology, thereby emboldening and encouraging the right wing to a great extent. Pakistan today needs forces of rationality, humanity and good sense to come together throughout the country to roll back this tide that is threatening the nation as a whole. Governor Taseer may not be amongst us today physically but his bold and rational stance for human rights, women’s rights, minorities’ rights and justice remains with us in spirit. Let us pay our tribute to Mr Taseer by realising his dream of a democratic, secular and pluralistic Pakistan.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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