RAWALPINDI - An anti-terrorism court (ATC) Saturday awarded death sentence to Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri in the murder case of former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, sparking protests in almost all major cities of the county.
ATC No 2 Judge Syed Pervez Ali Shah handed down death penalty to Qadri on two counts for killing Taseer on January 4 this year and creating a scene of terrorism under section 302 of Pakistan Penal Court (PPC) and Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) Section 7 during in-camera trial held at Adyala Jail amid tight security. The court also imposed Rs 200,000 fine on Qadri. Police were deployed at the jail gate to prevent any break-in. After Qadri was sentenced, the judge left through the back door. Mumtaz Qadri, who was on guard duty in Taseers Elite Force guards at the time of killing, shot the governor down outside a an upmarket restaurant close to his residence in the leafy capital Islamabad for his views on the blasphemy laws. Mumtaz was arrested on the spot with the weapon. He confessed killing Taseer under oath.
During the in-camera hearing of the Taseer murder case, the ATC said that the murder, being a heinous crime, had no justification to it. The court said that no one could be given the license to kill someone on any condition. Therefore, the killer cannot be pardoned as he has committed a heinous crime by murdering the governor.
Qadri tried to justify the murder by stating that he had killed him for supporting Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman having five children and sentenced to death in November 2010, who Taseer had projected as having been wrongly convicted of committing blasphemy.
According to Qadris statement, he had approached Taseer on the evening of January 4 and tried to talk to him about his very public support for Aasia Bibi and his advocacy of reform not repeal of the controversial blasphemy laws.
During the trial held on September 24 last, ATC Judge Syed Pervez Ali Shah adjourned the hearing till October 1, 2011 after completion of arguments of defence council. The judge ordered the prosecutor Saiful Malook advocate, who could not appear before the court, to submit his arguments in written with the court in the case on the next date of hearing. A total of 43 witnesses were presented before the court by prosecution, however, the court recorded statement of only 14 witnesses. Legal experts say that the accused has seven days to appeal against the verdict. The court has awarded my client with death. The court announced the death sentence for him, Shujaur Rehman, one of Qadris lawyers, told the media. He said he will lodge an appeal in a high court against the verdict, the lawyer said.
Talking to The Nation, Raja Shujahur Rehman termed the verdict as 'unprecedented, saying, during todays proceeding the court had to listen to the arguments of the prosecution and close the case instead of delivering its verdict.
He said that in routine the defence counsels are told about the ATC judges departure schedule for Adyala Jail to take up the case and after confirmation the defence counsels reached jail before the time. Despite repeated contacts from 08:00 to 10:00am made by Qadris lawyers to know the departure schedule of the judge, the staff informed them the judge was in his chamber and did not leave for Adyala Jail, he added.
The defence counsel was informed by the court only after awarding death sentence to Qadri, Shujah said, adding that defence counsel was going to file a plea with the court under Section 23 of ATA during trial.
Briefing about details, Shujah informed that it was mentioned in the application that terrorism charges were not proved against Qadri in the case that was why the court could not held the trial. Therefore, it was prayed to shift the case to a Sessions Court, he added. I wonder why the judge made this unprecedented haste in delivering his verdict in the absence of defence lawyers. What kind of fear he (judge) was feeling that forced him to sentence Qadri to death secretly, Raja Shujah-ur Rehman stated.
He told this scribe that he and his colleague Tariq Dhamial also met with Qadri at Adyala Jail. He said that Qadri welcomed them with a smiling face in the cell and first recited Sura-e-Kauser and then presented Naat Sharif.
I have a complaint with you people why you came to meet me without sweets? Now I request you to go back to your homes and distribute sweets among the people as today Allah Almighty has accepted my sacrifice, Shujah quoted Qadri as saying during their meeting at Adyala Jail.
The defence counsel informed that father and brothers of Qadri were also present on the occasion in the cell. The father of Qadri said Allah-o-Akbar aloud thrice before hugging his son. On this, Qadri swiftly hugged his father and asked him not to worry as the sentence is not a death sentence rather it is martyrdom, Shujah quoted Qadri as saying.
Talking to The Nation, Tariq Dhamial, defence counsel for Qadri, told that they would file and appeal against the verdict in the Islamabad High Court within 10 days.
Whether Qadri will hang will remain open even after the appeals process is exhausted. According to Amnesty International, Pakistan has had an informal moratorium on executions in place since late 2008, before which it had hanged at least 36 people that year. No one has ever been sent to the gallows under Pakistans blasphemy law. Those sentenced to death have had their sentences overturned or commuted.
Hundreds of charged workers of many religious groups came on roads of Rawalpindi to protest against the verdict while police and other law enforcement agencies did not try to control the enraged protesters. The protesters expressed their outrage by burning tyres on almost all main roads, blocking traffic, hitting windowpanes of public and private transport with sticks and iron rods and ripping portraits of government figures.
In Rawalpindis Liaquat Bagh area, where former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007, about 1,000 angry Qadri supporters blocked a main road with burning tyres. Shouting slogans against the government and the judge who sentenced Qadri, they forced shops to shut down, while stick-wielding protesters attacked passing vehicles. They also burnt the monument of PPP slain Chairperson Benazir Bhutto at Liaquat Bagh.
They demanded the president grant clemency to him. By punishing one Mumtaz Qadri, you will produce a thousand Mumtaz Qadris a man shouted through a megaphone outside the jail.
Sunni Tehrik and other religious parties rejected the verdict calling it worse judgment than the English court which awarded death sentence to Alamdin Ghazi decades ago. This decision was made to please the Jewish lobby, Sahibzada Ataur Rehman, a leader of the Sunni Tehreek, was quoted as saying.
Sunni Tehrik, Tehrik-i-Islam Pakistan, Jamia-e-Rizwiya Ziaul Uloom, Shahab-i-Islami Pakistan, Anjuman Tulba-i-Islam and other religious parties have announced to stage protest against the verdict that they demanded to be revised. Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), while rejecting the ATC verdict, announced to launch a countrywide movement and observe a wheel-jam strike in the country on October 7.
A large number of lawyers, belonging to Namoos-e-Risalat Lawyers Forum, Islamabad Bar, staged a sit-in outside the Gate-3 of the jail and also denounced the court verdict. After sometime, the protesters rallied toward Katchehri Chowk. The irate protesters kept chanting slogans against government high-ups, the ATC judge and the US. A massive traffic block was witnessed on the road, causing immense problems for commuters.
The rally, which left from Adyala Jail, also joined this second stream of protesters and later moved toward Rawalpindi-Islamabad Press Club (RPIC) on Benazir Bhutto Road where they also staged a sit-in. There some prominent clerics and lawyers addressed the protesters and vehemently denounced the court verdict. They said that a movement against the death sentence of Qadri would be started both on national and international level. They said that federal and provincial governments sent back US killer, Raymond Davis, instead of punishing him. Among the speakers were Pir Syed Hussainuddin Shah, Mufti Hanif Qureshi and Raja Shujahur Rehman
Earlier, a group of charged protesters ripped posters and banners of Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif and PML-N MNA Malik Shakeel Awan and set them ablaze. Later, the same group burnt tyres in the middle of Liaquat Bagh Chowk and blocked traffic. The group, while holding sticks, also beat public and private transporters and commuters with sticks and punches. The protesters also closed down the shops on Murree Road and China Market forcefully.
More than 25 charged protesters ransacked monument of Benazir. They scratched the huge sized portraits of BB, uprooted the iron grills and set it on fire. SHO PS City rushed to the scene and got the fire extinguished. However, the protesters fled the scene. Some protestors reportedly also held protest demonstrations at Faizabad and Chuher Chowk and blocked the roads for traffic.
Staff Reporter adds form Karachi: Sunni Tehreek, Khatme Nabowat, Jamiat Ulm-i-Islam and a number of other religious parties staged a protest sit-in front of Karachi Press Club against the sentence. The participants of the protest were carrying placards and chanting slogans against the government.
Addressing the participants central leader Sunni Tehreek Shahid Ghouri condemned the execution sentence given by the anti-terrorism court. He added that they are ready to give blood money to the family of Salman Taseer if they were ready to accept it. JUP leader Qazi Ahmed Noorani alleged that this decision was made to please the Jewish lobby.
Agencies add: Taseers killing was the most high-profile assassination in Pakistan since former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was murdered in a gun and suicide attack on a Rawalpindi election rally in December 2007. Two months after Taseers killing, a Catholic government minister for minority affairs who had vowed to defy death threats over his opposition to the blasphemy laws was also shot dead in Islamabad.
Taseer had attracted widespread condemnation from religious groups over his support for Aasia Bibi, who was sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy in Punjab. One of his sons, Shahbaz, was abducted by gunmen in Lahore on August 26. He had been given police protection but was abducted from posh area of Gulberg while on his way to work. Police have so far drawn a blank on who was responsible but say Taseers family has been repeatedly threatened to withdraw murder charges against Qadri.
Liberal Pakistanis and rights groups believe the existing laws on blasphemy are discriminatory against the countrys tiny minority groups, and its vague terminology has led to misuse. A 13-year-old Christian girl was recently accused of blasphemy after she misspelled a religious word in a school test. She was expelled from school in the town of Havelian in northwestern Pakistan.
Staff reporter from Lahore adds: Charged protestors belonging to religious parties took to the streets of the provincial capital after the news of death sentence to Mumtaz Qadri who assassinated Punjab governor, Salman Taseer in January this year at federal capital.
The protestors while rejecting death penalty to Mumtaz Qadri demanded reversal of his sentence. They also demanded of the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take suo moto notice of the decision.
On this occasion, a leader of the religious party announced five million rupees as the head money for the judge of the anti-terrorism court for allegedly awarding capital punishment to Mumtaz Qadri.
Large number of protestors including leaders and workers of Tahaffuz e Namoos-e-Risalat Mahaz and member parties of Sunni Ittehad Council starting the demonstrations from Data Darbar and passing from Anarkali Chowk, GPO Chowk, The Mall reached at Faisal Chowk in front of Punjab Assembly on Saturday where the leaders addressed the participants.
The demonstrators throughout the march chanted slogans condemning the sentence of Mumtaz Qadri, besides coming down hard on the government and the court for allegedly awarding death sentence to Qadri.
They were also carrying placards and banners inscribed with slogans in favour of their demands and against the decision and government.
Some of the markets and shopping plazas fall on the route of the demonstrators were shut down before the protest march, while some closed down on the news that marchers were reaching there.
Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi, Maulana Raghib Hussain Naeemi, Maulana Nawaz Bashir Jalali, Mufti Mohammed Imran Naeemi, Abdul Rasool Khan, Mufti Haseeb Attari, Pir Saifullah Naqshbandi, Allama Imran Nizami, Allama Abdur Rauf Qadri and others took part in the protest.
Speakers addressing the participants while rejecting the anti-terrorism court decision pledged that they would challenge the sentence of Ghazi Mumtaz Qadri in the superior courts.
They said that Mumtaz Qadri was a hero of Islamic Ummah, while slain Governor Salman Taseer had been excluded from the Islam by declaring blasphemy law as 'black law and it was the responsibility of government under Section 295C to arrest him.
They maintained that the indifferent attitude of the government compelled Qadri to repeat the history of Ghazi Ilam Din Shaheed.
They said that the masses would not remain silent over the sentence of Qadri and the government must play its due role on the issue.
They said such incidents would continue to occur if the government would not take prompt action on the cases of blasphemy.
They said Qadri was the spokesman of millions of Muslims around the globe and asked the government either to release him or hang the whole Pakistani nation, as no Muslim could pardon the blasphemy.
Meanwhile, Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP) President Dr Zubair, General Secretary Qari Zawar Bahadur along with MMA parliamentary leader in Punjab Assembly Ali Noor Haider Khan Niazi addressed a press conference against the court decision and announced that they had established contacts with all religious parties and would move to the courts against this decision.
Traffic police blocked all the roads going towards the route of the demonstrations, which created a traffic mess at Lawrence Road, Queens Road, Chauburji and various other parts of the City.
The police and district administration seemed helpless despite the imposition of Section-144 in the provincial metropolis.