ISLAMABAD: The bench hearing Mumtaz Qadri’s appeal against his conviction in the Salmaan Taseer murder case asked the defence counsel whether a police constable could pronounce judgment or carry out the sentence against an individual, on the basis of his or her beliefs.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) division bench consisting of Justice Noorul Haq N. Qureshi and Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui put this question to Mumtaz Qadri’s counsel during a hearing on Wednesday.

Qadri, a former Elite Force commando, gunned down former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer on January 4, 2011 in Islamabad’s Kohsar Market. An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Rawalpindi convicted him in Oct 2011 and awarded him the death penalty on two counts.

Also read: Qadri's appeal: IHC re-issues notice to Salman Taseer's legal heirs

On Wednesday, Justice Siddiqui asked Qadri’s defence team to explain to the court how a policeman could “determine whether an individual was an apostate or not”.

Overlooking this murder would give everyone a licence to kill in the name of religion, says judge

“In the presence of the blasphemy laws, how can we justify a person taking the law into his own hands,” he asked.

He asked the counsel why Qadri didn’t ever try to file a complaint against Taseer at any forum if he was sure that the governor had done something wrong.

“If this state of affairs persists, tomorrow one can be end up being punished for not reciting religious verses or wearing green turbans,” he remarked.

Justice Qureshi posited that if this particular act was overlooked, it would be tantamount to giving everyone a “licence to kill” in the name of religion, making it easy for murderers to justify their crimes by labelling their victims blasphemers.

“No person can be allowed to take the law into their own hands. There is a system in the state and one can only be prosecuted on the basis of available evidence and at a proper forum,” he remarked.

The judge said there was a need for extra caution in such matters, recalling a recent case where a cleric fabricated evidence against a minor Christian girl to implicate her in a blasphemy case.

He said that Islam taught tolerance and pointed out that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) never said a word to the woman who would throw trash on him and managed to change her through his tolerance and good deeds.

The life of a human being was more sacred than anything else, Justice Qureshi said, adding that the court had to examine whether the killing was an act of murder or not.

Retired Justice Mian Nazir Ahmed, Qadri’s main counsel, argued that the ATC had convicted his client under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) but the prosecution had not produced any evidence that could establish that Taseer’s killing was an act of terrorism. He said that Qadri was an honest policeman and had no personal enmity with the slain governor.

The average citizen, he said, would never spare a blasphemer because of their religious convictions. “I am sure Salman Rushdie would be killed if he were ever to come here,” Mr Ahmed argued. However, the counsel said that he would respond to the court’s questions on Friday.

Khawaja Mohammad Sharif, former chief justice of the Lahore High Court, claimed that the prosecution did not fulfil all legal formalities during Qadri’s trial before an ATC.

He said that the investigating officer did not record the statement of Waqas Khan, a key witness who was Mr Taseer’s host in Islamabad.

As per the crime scene map, Mr Khan was with Mr Taseer at the time of the attack, he pointed out.

Khawja Sharif claimed that the shooting was not an act of terrorism and that Qadri had no criminal background.

The former LHC Chief Justice also declared that that the men who stormed controversial French magazine Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 of its staff – including the editor – for publishing blasphemous cartoons, were his heroes.

Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2015

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