ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday upheld the conviction of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
A two member bench comprising Justice Noorul Haq Qureshi and Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui dismissed the appeal.
The bench had reserved the judgment on Feb 11 after Advocate General Islamabad Mian Abdul Rauf, the prosecutor in the case, and Qadri’s counsels, including former Lahore High Court chief justice Khawaja Mohammad Sharif and retired Justice Mian Nazeer – concluded their arguments.
The ruling by IHC was a surprise to many who had expected the killer’s sentence might be reduced amid growing threats to lawyers and judges hearing blasphemy-related cases.
Death sentence remains, 7 ATA void
In Oct 2011, an anti-terrorist court (ATC) in Rawalpindi had sentenced Qadri to death on two counts under section 302 PPC and 7 Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) for killing Taseer. 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.
In its ruling on the appeal today, the IHC rejected Qadri’s application against his death sentence under the PPC but accepted his application to void ATA’s Section 7.
Qadri’s counsels have planned to challenge IHC’s decision to uphold his death penalty in the Supreme Court.
With the removal of Section 7, Qadri may still face the death sentence but will likely not be executed. Although the government has recently done away with the moratorium on capital punishment, the hangings since then have been those of terror convicts only.
With the acceptance of Qadri’s plea demanding the exclusion of anti-terror clauses, the case is open to go for a retrial in a sessions court.
In light of today’s verdict, security around the IHC had been tightened and paths leading to the court had been sealed with barbed wires due to the sensitive nature of the case. Unauthorised personnel were also barred from entering the court.
Qadri, a former commando of Punjab police’s Elite Force, was sentenced to death for assassinating former Punjab governor Salman Taseer in Islamabad’s Kohsar Market. Qadri said he killed Taseer over the politician’s vocal opposition to the country’s harsh blasphemy laws.
He had confessed to shooting Taseer dead outside an upmarket coffee shop close to the latter’s residence in the capital on Jan 4.
The killing highlighted a growing gulf between conservatives and more liberal elements in society.
Qadri is viewed as a hero by many people who thought Taseer himself was a blasphemer by calling for the law’s reform.
Some lawyers threw rose petals at Qadri when he arrived in court days after the killing. The judge who convicted Qadri was forced to flee the country after death threats.
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan where 97 per cent of the population is Muslim and unproven claims regularly lead to mob violence.