08 October 2015, The Tablet

Pakistan upholds death penalty for blasphemy vigilante

A senior judge has spoken out on the misuse of blasphemy laws during an appeal hearing for a former Elite Force guard who assassinated a Pakistani governor for his support of a Catholic woman on death row on blasphemy charges.

Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, had visited Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman on death row on a blasphemy charge she denied, days before his murder in an Islamabad market in January 2011.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday rejected the appeal of Mumtaz Qadri, who was sentenced to death in October 2011 for the assassination. Qadri was working as Taseer's bodyguard at the time of the assassination.

Qadri’s legal counsel had argued that punishing a blasphemer is a God-given religious duty enjoined on everyone, and a responsibility his client was duly carrying out.

The Supreme Court also dismissed the argument by Qadri’s legal team that the act of critiquing the blasphemy law was in itself committing the act of blasphemy.

“If everyone starts punishing others, who have in their opinion committed blasphemy, then this society will disintegrate," Justice Asif Saeed Khosa told the court.

"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," Justice Khosa added.

In any democratic government, people have the right to criticise any law made by parliament, he added.

Supporters of Mumtaz Qadri rally behind a banner stating that the sentence is unacceptableSupporters of Mumtaz Qadri rally behind a banner stating that they believe that his sentence is unacceptable (PA)


Father Emmanuel Yousuf, national director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, a rights body of the Catholic Church in Pakistan, said it was good to see sense prevail: "The law has taken its course and justice has been served. One who commits murder for whatever reason should be held accountable for his actions.

"Governor Taseer always stood for what he thought was right. He was convinced Asia Bibi was innocent," he told UCANews.com.

"The ruling has set a good precedent, but a notable change regarding the misuse of blasphemy laws will take place only if the government shows some resolve."

Christians in Pakistan insist that blasphemy laws in Pakistan are often misused and used to attack them through false allegations.

Naveed Chaudhry, head of the Pakistan Minority Alliance, a political party representing minorities, also welcomed the Supreme Court ruling.

"People who take the law into their own hands and carry out murders in the name of Islam will be discouraged by the ruling," he told UCANews.com.

Despite the Supreme Court dismissing his appeal, Qadri now still has the right to file a mercy appeal to the President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain.



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