Articles by Amir Mir

IHC to hear Taseer killer’s appeal today

ISLAMABAD: Even though the Islamabad High Court is set to take up today the appeal of Salman Taseer’s assassin [Mumtaz Qadri] against his death sentence after a lapse of 40 months, the IHC is likely to decide the petition in the shortest possible time, in line with the Supreme Court Chief Justice’s recent directives to clear out on priority basis all the appeals in terrorism related cases which are pending either with the high courts or with the apex court.

It was in the wake of the December 16 Peshawar school massacre by the TTP that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court had convened an emergent meeting of all the five chief justices of the high courts on December 24 wherein they were directed not only to ensure a speedy disposal of the terrorism related cases pending with the Anti Terrorism Courts but also to dispose of the pending appeals [with the high courts] in terrorism cases on urgent basis. The CJ had also decided that offices of the Supreme Court and high courts would separate terrorism-related appeals and militancy-related cases so that the former could be heard on a priority basis for a speedy disposal. Subsequently, the Islamabad High Court has finally taken up the appeal of Salman Taseer’s assassin, Mumtaz Qadri.

A division bench comprising Justice Noorul Haq Qureshi and Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui will take up Qadri’s appeal against death sentence today. It was on January 4, 2011 that Mumtaz Qadri, a Punjab Police commando from the Elite Force, gunned down Salman Taseer in Islamabad with his official weapon to punish the governor for his stance on the misuse of the blasphemy laws. Taseer had visited Sheikhupura district jail on November 20, 2010 to meet Aasia Bibi. He later said: “She is poor and belongs to a minority community and should be pardoned especially when she has denied saying anything disrespectful.” Investigations into Salman Taseer’s murder showed that Qadri was heavily influenced by teachings of a non-political religious group of preachers with Barelvi leanings – Dawat-e-Islami – led by Maulana Ilyas Attaar Qadri. The followers of the Dawat-e-Islami are mostly seen in green turbans.

After a speedy trial by a Rawalpindi ATC, Qadri, who had proudly confessed to his crime, was found guilty and sentenced to death on two counts with Rs0.2 million fine [on October 1, 2011] by a district and sessions judge of Islamabad, Syed Pervez Ali Shah, on account of killing Salman Taseer. But his conviction was stayed by the Islamabad High Court on October 11, ten days after the ATC verdict. A division bench suspended Qadri’s death sentence till a final decision in his appeal pending before the IHC. The IHC bench, comprising Justice Iqbal Hameedur Rehman and Justice Muhammad Anwar Kasi, had admitted Qadri’s appeal against the ATC decision for regular hearing while issuing notices to the state. Former Chief Justice Lahore High Court Khawaja Sharif had appeared before the IHC as legal counsel of Qadri, arguing that the ATC had no jurisdiction to hear this case, as the Anti Terrorism Act was not applicable in this particular case. He insisted that the murder of Taseer did not create a sense of terror among the people and they were instead happy to listen about the murder.

The day Qadri’s death sentence was suspended, a large number of Dawat-e-Islami and Sunni Tehrik protesters had gathered outside the IHC premises to slam the punishment handed down to Taseer’s killer who was showered with rose petals upon his arrival. His appeal was pending with the IHC since then as most of the judges were not ready to take up the case. According to Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, at least five judges had refused to hear the murder case of Salman Taseer against Mumtaz Qadri out of the clergy’s fear. The level of support people like Mumtaz Qadri enjoy in Pakistani society can be gauged from the fact that the Islamabad ATC judge (Syed Pervez Ali Shah), who had handed down death sentence to Qadri, had to leave Pakistan for Saudi Arabia along with his family after receiving death threats from extremists belonging to some influential Sunni sectarian outfit.

In a related development, a mosque with the name of the Jamia Masjid Mumtaz Qadri is being built in Ghouri Town area of Faizabad along the road to the Islamabad Airport. Even today, the self-confessed killer of Taseer is enjoying a free hand at the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi to indoctrinate those around him and incite them into killing blasphemy accused and convicts even in their prison cells. An inquiry report into the September 25, 2014 murder attempt on an elderly British schizophrenic who was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges and shot by a prison guards at the Adiala Jail, had revealed quite recently that the guard had been provoked to do so by Taseer’s jailed assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, who is leading the life of a prison king. The million-dollar question remains as to why a convicted killer is being permitted to wield so much influence that he is not only able to provoke murder but is also in a position to frighten the law officers of the federal government.

With the Islamabad High Court is taking up Qadri’s appeal today, there are reports that the government prosecutors are reluctant to appear in the court against Salman Taseer’s assassin out of fear. The national media had reported that the federal government had appointed the advocate general of Islamabad to prosecute Qadri’s case. However, the Advocate General Islamabad Mian Abdul Rauf has already refuted having received any such instructions so far, adding that if the competent authority assigned him the case he would consider appearing in the case.

It may be recalled that unidentified bearded men had attacked the participants of a candlelight vigil at Liberty roundabout in Lahore on the death anniversary Salman Taseer on January 5. The attackers uprooted posters, tore apart banners and hit male and female activists of civil society besides manhandling media persons. Therefore, the federal government needs to provide full security and protection not only to the judges in the case but also to the prosecutors so that the self-confessed killer of Salman Taseer, who continues to enjoy the status of a prison king at Adiala Jail Rawalpindi, can get the punishment he deserves without any further delay.

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