‘Is criticising blasphemy laws blasphemous’

Published February 7, 2015
Mumtaz Qadri.—AFP/File
Mumtaz Qadri.—AFP/File
Counsel of Mumtaz Qadri Mian Nazir Akhtar arrives for the hearing of Salman Taseer’s murder case at IHC. — INP/File
Counsel of Mumtaz Qadri Mian Nazir Akhtar arrives for the hearing of Salman Taseer’s murder case at IHC. — INP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) bench hearing an appeal filed by Mumtaz Qadri – the murderer of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer – asked his defence team whether criticising the blasphemy laws was, in itself, an act of blasphemy.

The IHC division bench consisting of Justice Noorul Haq N. Qureshi and Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, on Friday, read out a statement by Mr Taseer, where he called the blasphemy law ‘a black law’. At this point, the judge asked Qadri’s counsel, former Justice Mian Nazeer Ahmed, whether Taseer had blasphemed when he criticised a law that was promulgated during the regime of former military dictator General Ziaul Haq.

Take a look: How could Qadri declare Taseer a blasphemer, IHC asks defence

“Did his actions fall under the ambit of the blasphemy law,” the judge mused, adding, “For the sake of argument, even if it is presumed that Mr Taseer had committed blasphemy, should he not be dealt with in accordance with the law?”

Evading the question, the counsel recalled that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had himself sent men to punish blasphemers. However, the bench remarked that in doing so, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was also exercising judicial powers in addition to administrative ones, adding that under second Caliph Umar, the judiciary was separated from the executive.

Qadri’s defence attorney maintains it is acceptable for individuals to act unilaterally against blasphemers in certain cases

The counsel claimed that in his research on the subject of blasphemy, he had found as many as 115 cases where alleged blasphemers had been put to death over the course of nearly 14 centuries. These included, he pointed out, Christians who had been executed in the name of religion in Europe.

He alleged that the west had double standards; on the one hand, they did not permit Holocaust Denial but on the other hand, they allowed things that hurt Muslim sentiments under ‘freedom of expression’.

The judge-turned-counsel argued that in certain circumstances, individuals could take action against blasphemers on their own.

At this point, Justice Qureshi remarked that even a judge did not have the authority to touch a convict. He said that a district and sessions judge, after convicting an accused, can award him the death penalty but he could not shoot the convict himself.

In case a judge causes any harm to the convict, the judge may be held accountable in accordance with the law and a case may be instituted against him, he added.

Qadri’s counsel claimed that his client was an honest policeman and had served with many VVIPs in the past.

He also claimed that there was insufficient evidence against Qadri to establish that he was a criminal.

Justice Siddiqui then asked the counsel whether, as a policeman, Qadri had taken an oath to protect the lives of his fellow citizens. If he believed Mr Taseer has done something wrong, he would have been dealt with in accordance with the law, the judge said.

He then asked the counsel whether the bench should decide the matter on the basis of emotions and sentiments, or strictly in accordance with the law and adjourned further hearing until February 10.

Published in Dawn February 7th , 2015

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