ISLAMABAD, Jan 6: A tragic farce that the nation is witnessing in the wake of the murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer continued on Thursday when the accused was taken to a court.
Police began the day with an elaborate plan to present Malik Mohammad Mumtaz Qadri at a place in Islamabad before the judge of an anti-terrorism court of Rawalpindi without taking him to the court premises, but hundreds of lawyers and activists of a religious group forced the judge not to leave for the capital.
The ATC was surrounded by the lawyers and activists, forcing the judge to stay in the court.
Through a notification issued in the morning, the office of the special magistrate at Iqbal Hall in G-7/3 was declared the Rawalpindi-Islamabad ATC for the purpose of remand, trial and other proceedings in the murder case.
The notification was issued because of fears that heightened emotions of people who turned up at the court might lead to a law and order problem.
Security arrangements were made around the building where the accused was brought in an armoured personnel carrier escorted by over a dozen police vehicles. The area was cordoned off by policemen in anti-riot gear and commandos who were also deployed on the roof of the hall and on adjoining buildings.
However, ATC judge Malik Akram Awan refused to follow the notification after he saw the charged crowd that had laid siege to his office.
After the judge’s refusal, police even considered removing a reference to Section 7 of the Anti-terrorism Act from the first information report (FIR) registered against the killer and present him in the district and sessions court, sources said.
However, eventually the idea was dropped and the accused was taken to the ATC.
But the entire episode from the notification to the hearing took over five hours and Qadri was taken to the ATC in Rawalpindi and presented before judge Malik Akram after 3pm.
Police sought physical remand of the accused, arguing that they needed to interrogate him about his possible links with religious or political groups and look into the possibility that he had been encouraged or provoked by someone to kill the governor.
Because of fears for their safety, no public prosecutor turned up at the court and the police officers concerned had to argue the case themselves.
According to the sources, the judge allowed the accused to meet a group of lawyers in a separate room after the proceedings.
The investigation, Dawn has learnt, has not thrown up anything concrete so far and police are following a number of leads. Nonetheless, police officials say they are looking into Qadri’s possible links with political and religious groups. The investigators are of the opinion that he did not act alone and that the assassination was the result of a conspiracy.
In fact, there are suspicions that Qadri was paid to carry out the murder and that he was given an assurance that his family would be looked after if anything happened to him or if he was convicted.
The investigators are learnt to have found out that the killer’s friends and acquaintances include many people who believe that violence should be used against those who ‘ridicule’ their interpretation of various aspects of the religion.
In his statement during interrogation, Qadri has claimed that he himself is solely responsible for the murder that he committed because Mr Taseer had criticised the blasphemy law while talking to reporters in Sheikhupura jail.
The sources said that Qadri’s father and brothers met him on Wednesday night and told him in strong words that he had “spoilt [his] life and career”.
Announcements had been made about bounty to be paid to the killer and the amount offered totalled Rs40 million, the sources said.
Mudassir Raja adds from Rawalpindi: Kohsar police of Islamabad obtained physical custody of Qadri for five days to interrogate him about who had planned the murder and where had the conspiracy been hatched.
The investigators sought a 12-day remand of Qadri to question him about the possible involvement of other people in the killing that took place in the Kohsar Market on Jan 4.
The court asked the investigators to get Qadri medically examined after his lawyers accused police of torturing him and subjecting him to electric shocks during interrogation.
The court said that the medical examination should be done by doctors of the Rawalpindi district headquarters hospital after Advocate Waheed Anjum, president of the district bar association, said a check-up in a hospital in Islamabad would not be transparent because the federal government was a party in the case.
Legal documents were signed by over 300 lawyers expressing their willingness to defend Qadri.
The investigators were asked to untie the hands of Qadri after his lawyers said it was unlawful to tie the hands on the back.
In the absence of prosecution lawyers, the investigators appeared to be under pressure owing to a large number of lawyers chanting slogans in support of the killer.
Advocate Anjum opposed the request for physical remand, saying police had not said that any recovery had to be made from Qadri. He said police had not allowed the accused to sleep and he had not been given any meal. He expressed the fear that after having made allegations of torture against police, Qadri might face more torture if he was given in their custody.