02/23/2016, 17.07
PAKISTAN

High tensions over clemency plea for Salman Taseer’s murderer

by Jibran Khan

President Mamnoon Hussain is expected to decide in the coming days whether to accept or reject a clemency plea by Mumtaz Qadri’s lawyers. Fearing retaliation, the president’s family has sought refuge at the president’s official residence. One of his three children recently escaped an assassination attempt. Police are ready to raise the alert level in the country and review Islamabad’s security arrangements.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Tensions are at their highest level in Pakistan, with the security forces ready to revise the capital’s security arrangements. In the coming days, President Mamnoon Hussain is expected to decide on whether to grant clemency to Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed murderer of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who was sentenced to death.

Experts fear that if the death sentence is confirmed radical Muslims will engage in violence. In fact, some members of the president's family, including one of his three children who narrowly escaped an assassination attempt, fled their homes for the relative safety of the presidential palace for fear of possible retaliation.

President Hussain will make his decision after a long legal process marked by threats. Only a few days ago, Professor Ibrahim, a former provincial ameer of the Jamaat-e-Islami (Islamist) party, threatened retaliation against the government if Qadri was not immediately released. The Islamist leader warned the president and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to protect themselves from the wrath of the people.

On 4 January 2011, Qadri, one of Taseer's body guards, killed the governor as he left a restaurant in Islamabad, over his positions against the blasphemy law, which imposes life imprisonment or the death sentence for those who desecrate the Qur’an  or the name of the prophet Muhammad.

Qadri has always claimed responsibility for the murder saying he wanted to punish the governor, who had also spoken in favour of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman charged with insulting the Prophet. For this reason, Islamists have hailed him as a «national hero».

Qadri’s defence team has argued that the Federal Shari'a Court had jurisdiction in this case because their client acted in defence of Islam. For the lawyers, the accused murdered Taseer because the latter had spoken out against the blasphemy law, calling it "black law" and, therefore, had to be considered a blasphemer.

Qadri was sentenced to death in October 2011 by an anti-terrorism court, a decision that was upheld by the Islamabad High Court in February 2015 on the grounds that nothing justified “the murder of the victim”. Last October, his lawyers’ appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan was also rejected.

For Qadri, the last hope rests with President Hussain. The terrorist’s supporters are leaning heavily on him, but so far, there have been no leaks about his decision.

Meanwhile, the president and his family have been placed under stricter security arrangements in the president’s residence. One of his children, 25-year-old Salman Mamnoon Hussain, was targeted in a bomb attack in May 2015 near Karachi, but remained unharmed.

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