ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday maintained the conviction of Mumtaz Qadri — the killer of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer — by an Anti Terrorism Court.

The Islamabad High Court's (IHC) March 9 verdict which had rejected Qadri's application against his death sentence under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) but accepted his application to void the Anti Terrorism Act's (ATA) Section 7,was overturned by the court.

Know more: Anti-Terrorism Act: Section 7

Headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, the bench had taken up two appeals; one moved by Advocate Mian Nazir Akhtar on behalf of Mumtaz Qadri, and another moved by the federal government against the IHC verdict.

Read: SC debates ‘authority of individuals’ to punish blasphemers

A three-member bench of the apex court allowed the government application to re-include the terrorism charges against Qadri

The appeal filed by Mumtaz Qadri for a reduction in his sentence was dismissed by the court.

Qadri still has the right to submit a mercy appeal to the president.

During the course of court proceedings on the case, Qadri's counsel argued that the accused was a straightforward man who had a justification for killing the former governor, admitting that whatever he did was in accordance with the dictates of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), because he was convinced that the victim had committed blasphemy by calling the blasphemy law “a black law”.

“We have to look into whether the deceased (Salmaan Taseer) indeed committed the act of blasphemy or he commented adversely on the effects of the blasphemy law,” Justice Dost Mohammad Khan had observed.

Given the prevailing constitutional and legal setup, Justice Dost Mohammad observed, can the accused be given the right to judge on his own cause and commit murder in uniform of a person who was under his protection, especially when there is no evidence of him having committed blasphemy, save a few press clippings.

Read more: Why blasphemy remains unpardonable in Pakistan

These questions need to be focused upon, Justice Dost Mohammad emphasised adding that the impression he had gathered from reading the facts of the case was that the deceased governor was talking about the defects in the blasphemy law, which were sometimes misused for personal benefit.

Also read: The heavy burden of Rimsha

In any democratic government, the nation has the right to criticise any law made by the parliament because it was made by representatives of the people, Justice Khosa observed, and illustrated his argument with the example of the 21st amendment.

“Will it not instil fear in the society if everybody starts taking the law in their own hands and dealing with sensitive matters such as blasphemy on their own rather than going to the courts,” Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had later asked.

Quoting instances such as the lynching of a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan, Justice Khosa had asked whether an individual has the right to act on his own in such matters without even first ascertaining the facts.

Also read: The untold story of Pakistan’s blasphemy law

Justice Dost Mohammad Khan also stressed the need of exercising restraint because blasphemy accusations were serious and prone to misuse. Allowing individuals to deal with such matters on their own is fraught with danger, especially in divided societies like ours, where even ulema are reluctant to offer prayers with members of other schools of thought, he observed.

Sunni Tehreek to file review petition

In a statement released today, Sunni Tehreek (ST) has decided to file a review petition in the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) in regards to the apex court's earlier decision to uphold the death penalty for Mumtaz Qadri under ATA laws.

"The death penalty awarded to Mumtaz Qadri is against Shariah and the Constitution of Pakistan," claimed the statement from ST.

The statement was issued by Naeem Raza, incharge of ST's media cell and quoted Muhammad Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, chief of ST.

Qadri, a former commando of Punjab police’s Elite Force, was sentenced to death by an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in October 2011 for assassinating former Punjab governor Salman Taseer in Islamabad’s Kohsar Market. Qadri said he killed Taseer over the politician's vocal opposition to blasphemy laws of the country.

He had confessed to shooting Taseer dead outside an upmarket coffee shop close to the latter's residence in Islamabad on Jan 4.

Following the sentencing, Qadri's counsels had challenged the ATC's decision through two applications the same month.

The first petition had demanded that Qadri's death sentence should be quashed and the second asked for Section 7 of the ATA to be declared void from the sentencing.

Irfan Haider contributed to the story.

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