SALMAAN TASEER was murdered by an unrepentant Mumtaz Qadri in a deliberate, premeditated and ruthless manner for the vilest and most distorted of reasons. That makes Qadri a murderer who must be punished.
The Islamabad High Court hearing Qadri’s appeal did both the legally and morally correct thing in upholding Qadri’s conviction on Monday. Where the court appears to have unnecessarily created confusion and caused uncertainty about his ultimate fate is in its decision to set aside his parallel conviction under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.
In a single paragraph dealing with the anti-terrorism conviction — one paragraph among 47 that constitute the overall judgment — the court found that none of the prosecution witnesses (barring one), and neither the investigating officer nor the prosecution evidence, suggested that Qadri’s act amounted to an attempt to create panic, intimidate and terrorise the public, or to create a sense of fear and insecurity among the public. With due respect to the court, that is a very surprising and quite unsustainable finding.
Qadri’s killing of then governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer is the very definition of terrorism. It was an undisguised political act meant to send an unambiguous message of fear and intimidation to the public.
As the judgment itself notes, Qadri claimed that the murder of Taseer “is a lesson for all the apostates as finally they have to meet the same fate”.
In assassinating the Punjab governor, Mumtaz Qadri was not simply killing an individual, he was sending a message to state and society that only the particular version of religion and Pakistan that he and his supporters are in favour of ought to be the one implemented here — and anyone who deviates from that distorted, horrifying vision is deserving of death.
If that is not religiously inspired terrorism, then what is? Surely, the scores of individuals who have been celebrating Qadri’s act and are now welcoming the decision to strike down the terrorism conviction because it will allow them to openly and publicly venerate him and the hateful ideas he stands for only emphasise that the act of murder was not just against an individual, but was meant to distort society itself.
There is a further problem here. If Qadri’s murderous act in the name of religion is not terrorism, then what about killings on sectarian grounds and violence targeting non-Muslims?
The court appears to have unnecessarily embarked on a slippery slope with all manner of unpredictable consequences. Has, for example, the court unwittingly provided a ‘Qadri defence’ to religiously inspired terrorists who have so blighted this country in recent decades?
Finally, in unnecessarily tampering with the original judgment in such a high-profile case, has the court not reinforced the perception that the criminal justice system favours the accused over the victims? The original conviction should have been allowed to stand in its entirety.
Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2015