The cost of justice

The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan’s decision on Wednesday to maintain the conviction of Mumtaz Qadri by an Anti-Terrorism Court is being hailed as a landmark judgement. Qadri, who had filed an appeal for a reduction in his sentence, was earlier convicted for the assassination of Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer. Qadri killed a man he was duty-bound to protect, but shamelessly maintains he did the right thing.

Pakistani police guard Mumtaz Qadri (right) in a police van after he assassinated Governor Salman Taseer on January 4, 2011. Qadri killed a man he was duty-bound to protect, but shamelessly maintains he did the right thing. Pic/AFP
Pakistani police guard Mumtaz Qadri (right) in a police van after he assassinated Governor Salman Taseer on January 4, 2011. Qadri killed a man he was duty-bound to protect, but shamelessly maintains he did the right thing. Pic/AFP

According to Qadri, Shaheed Taseer had committed blasphemy by challenging the blasphemy laws and asking for the pardon of a blasphemy-accused, Aasia Bibi. Less than two months after Taseer’s assassination, Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was also gunned down. He, too, was vocal about the conviction of Aasia Bibi on alleged blasphemy charges.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) did a great disservice to the justice system in March this year when it ruled in favour of Qadri’s application to void Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). While the IHC upheld Qadri’s death sentence, voiding his anti-terrorism conviction turned the murder of a sitting governor into a regular murder case. After the IHC’s ruling, the slain governor’s murder was no longer being considered a crime against the state and an act of terror.

Headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, the three-member bench of the honourable Supreme Court has now overturned the IHC’s decision regarding the anti-terrorism charges. The apex court’s judgement has also given hope to many who thought the debate on blasphemy laws had died a silent death after the assassination of Taseer. Justice Khosa asked a pertinent question during the hearing: “Will it not instill fear in society if everybody starts taking the law in their own hands and dealing with sensitive matters such as blasphemy on their own rather than going to the courts?”

Yesterday, one of the top 10 Twitter trends in Pakistan was #IamMumtazQadri. Not only was it a shameful trend but it also showed how many in our society are willing to justify a murder just because it was wrongfully committed in the name of religion. Who can forget the way Qadri was garlanded by lawyers when he was presented before the court for the first time after the assassination of Governor Taseer. Qadri is also being treated like a VIP in prison.

For those of us shocked and saddened at the death of Taseer, the support for Qadri jolted us into realising that the actual ‘silent majority’ we thought was sane but did not speak up on such occasions for fear, was in fact the opposite. The real silent majority, which is not-so-silent-anymore, is in favour of mob justice and vigilantism.

In light of the Qadri verdict, the state must provide ample security to the three justices of the apex court as we live in a society where religious extremism prevails to an insane extent. One also hopes that Aasia Bibi’s case will be heard again and she will finally get justice. Governor Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti’s martyrdom must not go in vain. The debate on blasphemy laws must start again as these laws have constantly been misused. We owe this to those who died, for they sacrificed their lives by standing up for justice.

The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at mehmal.s@gmail.com

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