Judge, jury and executioner

07 Oct 2011


Pakistani lawyers chant slogans in favor of Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Punjab's governor Salman Taseer, during his appearance in a court in Islamabad, Pakistan on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011. – AP File Photo

Once upon a time we were privileged to have barristers and lawyers like Justice M.R Kayani, Justice A.R Cornelius, Justice Dorab Patel and Mohammed Ali Jinnah- men who were the very embodiment of brilliance, hard work and gravitas. They were circumspect in their personal as well as public dealings and were a credit to the nation. Now our icons of the past must be turning in their graves at the unsightly spectacle of  furious lawyers attacking and ransacking Judge Pervez Ali Shah’s courtroom in Rawalpindi because of their opposition to the death penalty handed down to Salman Taseer’s assassin Mumtaz Qadri.

Aside from the religious sentiments being provoked of such ‘Aashiq e Rasool’ (lovers of the Prophet) amongst the legal fraternity, this situation begs the question: if lawyers themselves do not respect judicial verdicts, then who will? Are they not bound by the tenets of their profession to pay heed to court decisions? Surely, discipline and dignity are the two essential pillars upholding a major state institution like the judiciary. Far from being censured and suspended for their ridiculous behaviour, the District Bar Association has asked for Judge Pervez Ali Shah’s transfer because “it can create a law and order situation.” Lawyer Farooq Sulehria has proclaimed that lawyers would boycott Shah’s court because of the “unacceptable” sentencing.

Now this is mind boggling stuff. Lawyers are refusing to accept a judicial verdict because it collides with their personal religious beliefs. How then can they profess to be custodians of justice and the epitome of neutrality and objectivity? Why is the Bar Association kowtowing to such obnoxious behaviour? Are they too lily-liver’d to rein in frenzied members, or do they also believe in their “cause?” Based on TV interviews and statements, it has been established time and again that Salman Taseer did not say anything against the Prophet (pbuh), but in fact he said he respected the Prophet like all Muslims. Taseer expressed support for blasphemy convict Asiya Bibi and opposed the implementation of the blasphemy law since the majority of the cases so far have been motivated by enmity. Hence, Mumtaz Qadri’s justification of blasphemy for murdering the late governor in cold blood does not stand in court. How low lawyers can stoop to grind their own axes was visible during the case when Salman Taseer was subjected to a disgraceful character assassination because the case for the defence was so weak. What do a man’s marriages or lifestyle have to do with his murder?

Naturally, members of religious parties have been hailing Qadri as their hero at massive rallies, because they are indoctrinated, immune to logic and after all this is their bread and butter. But since when have lawyers joined these militants who have blood in their eyes and froth on their lips?

In retrospect, there are bittersweet memories of the Lawyers Movement which galvanised Pakistan in 2009. These very same lawyers and their Chief Justice garnered support from almost all Pakistanis because people applauded the courage of one man to stand up to a system in front of which so many have caved in. Lawyers were garlanded and cheered as they marched for justice through the sweltering heat. When the Chief Justice was restored, there were celebrations galore and an overwhelming camaraderie brought on by “peoples’ power”. How ironic then that today when another brave man has stood up for truth and justice, he has been hounded out of office by his very own colleagues.

Justice Pervez Ali Shah saw the frenzy of the religious right every day during the closed door hearing in the high security Adiyala prison as trucks of supporters shouted full throated slogans and embraced Qadri. The judge knew there would be hell to pay if he did not release Qadri. Yet he upheld the dignity of his office by giving the right verdict: guilty as charged. How ironic then that instead of supporting their valiant colleague, lawyers are showering rose petals on Qadri and kicking apart Shah’s courtroom.

It beggars the mind that things in Pakistan have come to such a sorry pass. Increasingly, it seems that it is no longer a country for sane men. Even the cleric who led Salman Taseer’s funeral prayers has been forced to flee the country after constant threats to his life. Taseer’s son, Shahbaz, who appeared in court for the prosecution, has been missing for more than a month and there are reports of his release being sought in exchange for freedom for Qadri. Who then can blame the Taseer family for their guarded silence after the guilty verdict?

When the death penalty was handed down in the Sialkot lynching case, it seemed like a ray of light on the dark horizon and justice for the bereaved family of  Muneeb and Mughees. One was jolted back to grim reality when the main culprit, SHO Rana Ilyas, who was filmed during the lynching, was given bail when he filed an appeal with the Lahore High Court. One may well ask whither justice then for the aggrieved in Pakistan?

Another puzzling question is why do we express so much concern about the rights of Muslims in other countries, be it Palestine, Syria, Bahrain, Kashmir or India? How well are we treating our fellow Muslims in Pakistan? All one needs to ostracise, maim or kill another here is to have him or her declared an Ahmadi or a blasphemer or a member of a religious minority.. take your pick.. and self appointed standard bearers of Islam pop up like magic, wielding axes, guns and batons and hurling abuses. This vile madness is consuming us all and making us a stranger to one another. Our diversity should be our strength, not our weakness.  To add to the maelstrom of disease, natural disaster, corruption and inertia devouring Pakistan, one can add that justice has also become a commodity to be bartered and many of it’s practitioners are truly a disgrace to the noble profession. To have dispensers of justice applauding murderers is truly the stuff of nightmares.

Maheen Usmani is a freelance journalist. She has reported on varied subjects, ranging from socio-political issues to sports, travel, culture and counter terrorism.