10/03/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Muslims, extremists and others, oppose death penalty for “hero” Mumtaz Qadri

by Jibran Khan
Street demonstrations and burning tyres mark the sentence against Salman Taseer’s murderer. Muslim leaders celebrate Qadri, “full of Noor” (heavenly light). Rawalpindi mufti justifies the murder and pledges the same for the “Christian blasphemer”, Asia Bibi. Minorities welcome the verdict, even though they stress the sacredness of life.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – “Release Mumtaz Qadri the Islamic hero”, “a true worrier of Islam”, “By punishing one Mumtaz Qadri, you will produce a thousand Mumtaz Qadris!" are some of the slogans uttered by Pakistani (and non-Pakistani) Muslim extremists as they protested against the sentence inflicted upon Salman Taseer’s killer.

On Saturday, the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) handed down the death sentence to Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the self-confessed murderer of the governor of Punjab Salman Taseer, who was killed by his bodyguard on 4 January for defending Asia Bibi against charges based on Pakistan’s blasphemy legislation. Taseer had described the latter as a ‘black law’.

At the end of the proceedings, judge Syed Pervez Ali Shah was escorted out of the Adyala Jail, where the trial was held, through a side gate to avoid Qadri’s supporters who had gathered outside the facility (see Jibran Khan, “Pakistan: death sentence for Salman Taseer’s assassin Mumtaz Qadri,” in AsiaNews 01 October 2011).

During the weekend, Islamic extremist movements and fundamentalist groups demonstrated in Pakistan’s main cities, including Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi.

Despite the massive police deployment and the presence of security forces, protesters blockaded roads and burnt garbage bins and tyres. In Rawalpindi, the Benazir Bhutto monument in Liquat Bagh was damaged.

Officials from the Sunni Tehreek movement said the verdict was passed to “please the Jewish lobby”. Demonstrators also shouted slogans and waved their party’s green and yellow flag.

Members of the Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat (TNR) also called for the sentence to be rescinded.

Among Muslim extremists, there is virtual unanimity condemnation for the sentence. The judge himself has received threats for sentencing a “hero of Islam.

Mullah Abbas Qasim, TNR leader in Karachi, said Mumtaz Qadri’s face was “full of Noor” (heavenly light) because he killed a man “who was supporting the repeal of the blasphemy law.” For this reason, he called on “all Muslims” to “save our brother”.

Mufti Hanif Qureshi of Rawalpindi added that as a Muslim, “Taseer committed blasphemy” and for this reason Qadri was “justified”. The same fate will “fall on the Christian blasphemer, Asia Bibi”.

The sentence against the murderer of Punjab governor was welcomed among Christians, even though they all insist on the sacredness of life.

Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad, stressed the importance of the separation between “state and religion” because Qadri’s defence was based on the “flaws of Pakistan’s constitution, which is based on a specific religion.”

“Death is not something to celebrate,” said Haroon Barkat Masih, president of the Masihi Foundation. Instead, “we should celebrate justice” and “support the work of the judiciary”.

In commenting the sentence, he added that no one should “rejoice in the pain this man shall suffer;” however, “let’s rejoice over the fact that for once, at least, justice has prevailed”.

Fr Francis Xavier, a priest and activist in Lahore, said that Qadri wanted to “become a hero, and in Pakistan, all you have to do “is commit some violent act in the name of Islam”.

The murder “is already a hero, a murderer raised to the level of a saint, respected by prison guards,” the clergyman explained. “Imagine what would happen if he should be released” from prison.

For Anglican Bishop Alexander John Malik, the court reached a “good decision”. Although “I am against the death penalty,” sometimes it is necessary “to take courageous decisions to ensure respect for the law.”
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