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Mumtaz Qadri, Prison King

Updated October 31, 2014

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In a barred and locked up representation of the country, a condemned man is king, judge, arbiter of right and wrong. He is also a killer. —Photo by Reuters
In a barred and locked up representation of the country, a condemned man is king, judge, arbiter of right and wrong. He is also a killer. —Photo by Reuters

Prisons are parallels of the world in which they exist; its evils, its injustice, its inequities are all magnified and underscored in miniature and microcosm in the world behind bars.

The dark recesses of Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail constitute such a place where a Pakistan mired in lawlessness makes its pretenses of justice and punishment.

In this barred and locked up representation of the country, a condemned man is king, judge, arbiter of right and wrong.

Mumtaz Qadri is also a killer.

In 2011, employed as a guard, he gunned down Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer. His victim’s crime, Qadri the killer proudly proclaimed while blood still stained his hands, was to visit and speak up for a poor, imprisoned Christian woman who had been accused of blasphemy.

Footprints: Mumtaz Qadri mosque, memorials to our misdeeds

That was three years ago, but from inside Adiala prison, Mumtaz Qadri continues to dole out death sentences, of which he is still sole judge and jury. So complete appears his control, so unquestioned his elevation to punisher rather than punished that it seems he can use the prison guards to carry out the punishments he decides must be doled out.

As an internal investigation revealed this week, Mohammad Yousuf, a guard who had been deployed to watch over Qadri became the latest tool with which this prison king wielded his wrath. In this case, it took just two weeks to wash over any qualms Yousuf may have had.

At the end of two weeks, Yousuf, a guard, and a member of the Elite Force walked into the barracks where blasphemy convict Mohammad Asghar and blasphemy accused Pastor Zafar Bhatti were being housed. They were his appointed targets. Once inside, Yousuf shot Asghar, a 70-year-old man with paranoid schizophrenia.

Frail and in ill health, Asghar was the perfect victim, easily vanquished. It was Asghar’s insanity that had landed him in prison; his senseless ramblings collected and provided as proof of blasphemy. In a country, without empathy, there is no room for insanity.

Also read: Sentencing a schizophrenic to death - and other Pakistan stories

Asghar lived despite being shot by Yousuf. There were reports that Pastor Zafar Bhatti had also been hurt, but the news from the darkness within the barracks where accused and convicted blasphemers are kept comes slowly and uncertainly.

What is known, and is clear is that Mumtaz Qadri rules in prison. It was not the first time he had incited an attack, goaded a guard to do his bidding.

The world in prison, where a blasphemy accused can be killed before trial, reflects the world outside.

According to the Center for Research and Strategic Studies in Islamabad, blasphemy cases are on the rise with vigilante mobs and armed assailants all meting out death sentences on the streets of Pakistan. This world beyond the prison walls is also Qadri’s world; caught in the same pangs of hatred that point, accuse, convict and kill without proof and without procedure.

While Qadri was busy coaching Yousuf to kill Asghar, Shakeel Auj, the Dean of Islamic Studies at Karachi University was gunned down by unknown assailants. He, too, had been harassed by allegations of blasphemy contoured to condemn for his dissent against extremism.

A few months before that in May, Rashid Rehman, a lawyer who had represented blasphemy victims in court was also killed.

Also read: Terror’s targets: The professor and the policeman

Between these tales of dead lawyers and scholars are the tales of property takings, business disagreements, vengeance and revenge, all lubricated by an allegation whose very mention is in Pakistan, a death sentence.

Mumtaz Qadri, the prison king, the arbiter of death sentences rules inside prison, but beyond the walls of Adiala is another prison, equally repressive, equally unable to deliver freedom or justice, ruled also by prison kings.