Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed murderer of the former governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, is not a terrorist in terms of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997. This was the intriguing holding of the Islamabad High Court in its recent judgement on the appeal filed by Mumtaz Qadri.
The Islamabad High Court set aside Qadri’s conviction on terrorism charges, while maintaining his conviction for pre-meditated murder under the Pakistan Penal Code. In essence, the Honourable Justices had held that, among other things, no individual could be judge, jury, and executioner in his own case. Hence, Qadri, although possibly “a pious man in his personal life”, could not lawfully adjudicate as to the culpability of Taseer, and thereafter serve punishment as he saw fit. Such functions and authority lay only with the state.
In its 64-page judgement, the Honourable Justices discussed in detail the concept of blasphemy, sifted through various verses of the Holy Quran as well as the sayings of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), and gave a detailed account of the historical development of the blasphemy laws. However, ironically, of the 47 paragraphs in the judgement, only one paragraph was dedicated to the question of whether the actions of Mumtaz Qadri were in fact an act of terrorism or not.
It was held that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the actions of Mumtaz Qadri, in gunning down a sitting governor in broad daylight, had in any manner caused panic and fear among the public or even a segment of society. Interestingly, on this point, the Supreme Court has already held on previous occasions that evidence is not necessarily required to establish-in-fact that panic and fear had permeated throughout society or a segment of the public. If the Honourable Justices were of the opinion that the said actions were likely to cause panic and fear, as opposed to positively having caused panic or fear, such likelihood would be sufficient for purposes of the law.
Even otherwise, the judgement acknowledges that one witness had in fact stated that such actions of the accused had sent bouts of fear and panic throughout society. This testimony could have been considered in light of the sheer audacity of the attack.
Additionally, perhaps judicial notice should have also been taken of two other pertinent facts which could have assisted the court in determining whether the incident was likely to cause panic and fear: (1) that reportedly the special court judge who pronounced judgement on Qadri was forced to flee the country for fear of his life; and (2) that lawyers were purportedly reluctant to represent the state for fear of reprisals of the nature faced by Taseer.
The effect of not doing so has forced a situation where individuals such as Shahrukh Jatoi, having murdered someone over ostensibly private disputes, have been adjudged as terrorists for creating panic amongst the public, whereas a person who murdered the governor of Punjab for airing his views is considered anything but that. The batman of an army officer, convicted for murdering his assigned officer, has been adjudged a terrorist for creating panic and fear amongst army ranks by violating a sacred trust, but the same does not hold true for an elite force member, who despite being entrusted with the security of the symbol of the federation in the province, decided to gun down the same without a care in the world. The irony is unfortunately profound.
As a necessary implication of the judgement, the legal heirs of Salmaan Taseer shall become more vulnerable than before. With the terrorism charge out the window, blood money now becomes an option for the supporters of Qadri, who could very well try to force the hand of the legal heirs.
Secondly, the chucking out of the terrorism conviction has also ensured that well-wishers of Qadri can now publically express their support for his actions, including holding weekly rallies and protests in his favour so as to pressurise the government into accepting their demands. In terms of the law, terrorists or banned organisations cannot be glorified in public. Until the dawn of the instant judgement, the said principle also applied to Qadri. However, as a result of the setting aside of the terrorism conviction, his supporters can already be seen galvanising weekly rallies in his support, with such protests being punctuated with promises of continuing their campaign till his release.
Sadly, with the judgement posing more questions to the public than offering answers, one is forced to contemplate the way forward. One would think that the state would positively appeal the decision in so far as it sets aside the terrorism conviction of Mumtaz Qadri. However, with few lawyers willing to be the face of the prosecution, and the government seemingly reluctant to rock the boat, this appears to be an unlikely outcome. Tragically, it is as unlikely a scenario as is erroneous the assumption that Mumtaz Qadri, as opposed to creating panic and fear in the public, had “no other intention except to murder the deceased”.
The writer is an attorney-at-law.
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