Criticising blasphemy laws not blasphemous: SC

ISLAMABAD: Justice Asif Saeed Khosa of the Supreme Court of Pakistan said on Monday that criticism of the blasphemy law did not amount to blasphemy.

The judge gave these remarks while hearing an appeal filed by Mumtaz Qadri — the killer of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer — against his death penalty.

A three-member bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa adjourned the hearing till today when Qadri’s counsel Justice (r) Nazir Akhter is expected to continue his arguments.

During Monday’s hearing, the bench observed that the entire argument of Qadri’s counsel would be rendered irrelevant if it is not established that then governor Salmaan Taseer had committed blasphemy.

Justice Khosa in his remarks said that criticising a law does not amount to blasphemy and the press clippings presented in court do not provide sufficient evidence to maintain that the former governor had committed blasphemy.

Qadri, a former commando of Punjab police’s Elite Force, was sentenced to death for assassinating former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer in Islamabad’s Kohsar Market. Qadri said he killed Taseer over the politician’s vocal opposition to blasphemy laws of the country.

He had confessed to shooting Taseer dead outside an upmarket coffee shop close to the latter’s residence in Islamabad.

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 be quashed and the second asked for Section 7 of the ATA to be declared void.

In its ruling on the appeal, 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 then challenged IHC’s decision to uphold his death penalty in the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court on Monday directed Justice (r) Nazir Ahmed to conclude his arguments in the case till Tuesday (today).

The three-member bench of the apex court comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, Justice Mushir Alam and Justice Dost Muhammad Khan heard the plea filed by Mumtaz Qadri.

Justice Asif Saeed asked Qadri’s counsel how many witnesses appeared before the high court and how many accused were nominated in the case.

Justice (r) Nazir Ahmed told the bench that initially many accused were nominated in the case but challan was not filed against most of them. As many as 14 witnesses appeared before the high court, he added.

He said the Islamabad High Court (IHC) announced its verdict on March 09 and upheld Mumtaz Qadri’s death sentence under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code for killing Salmaan Taseer but Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) was declared void from the sentencing.

He said the high court in its verdict ignored many points in the case. He said his client killed Salman Taseer in rage. He said that Mumtaz Qadri assassinated Salmaan Taseer for defending Asia Bibi, allegedly involved in blasphemy. “That is why, the security personnel present on the venue did not take any action against Mr Qadri while considering his action accurate and appropriate. Therefore, the ATC section should be declared void.”

The killing of Salmaan Taseer was the most high-profile political assassination in Pakistan since former prime minister Benazir Bhutto died in a gun and suicide attack in December 2007.

Taseer had supported a Christian mother of five sentenced to death in November 2010 for alleged blasphemy in Punjab.

Two months after Taseer’s killing, a 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.

While no one has ever been sent to the gallows under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, activists say it is used to attack others out of personal enmity or because of business disputes.



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