Only a few months ago, Supreme Court of Pakistan maintained the conviction of Salmaan Taseer’s killer Mumtaz Qadri and even re-included terrorism charges so that there can be no doubt of his crimes. Heading the bench, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa gave a strong statement about the importance of respecting rule of law especially on sensitive matters.
“Will it not instil fear in the society if everybody starts taking the law in their own hands and dealing with sensitive matters such as blasphemy on their own rather than going to the courts,” Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had later asked.
Quoting instances such as the lynching of a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan, Justice Khosa had asked whether an individual has the right to act on his own in such matters without even first ascertaining the facts.
Justice Khosa was praised at the time for his bravery in making this statement, but now there are questions about whether Justice Khosa’s courage has reached it limits as the justice appears to have made a massive U-turn on the importance of rule of law.
According to media reports, a Supreme Court bench has denied bail to the publisher of 102-year-old Ahmadiyya publication Al-Fazl despite that he has been rotting in prison for three years on blasphemy and terrorism charges even though the police had yet to submit the case’s challan in trial court. Here is what Justice Khosa reportedly said this time.
Justice Khosa observed that unfortunately when matters pertaining to religion were under consideration one had to ignore the law.
In one case, Justice Khosa bravely states the importance of rule of law. Few weeks later, a complete U-turn and he justifies ignoring the law if matters of religion are under consideration. Isn’t this the same justification used by TTP terrorists?
This is a dangerous precedent if a respected Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan has declared that law may be ignored if matters of religion are involved. There must be an investigation and explanation provided by the Court. President Mamnoon Hussain should take notice of these reports and if necessary refer Justice Khosa to Supreme Judicial Council for review. Otherwise, a Justice of Supreme Court may have declared any illegal acts can be justified if matters of religion is involved.
Today is a day that will go down in the history books. The best response I have seen comes from Nadeem Paracha on Twitter.
What he is referencing, of course, is the historic decision by Supreme Court maintaining the conviction of Governor Salmaan Taseer’s confessed murderer and rejecting his appeal against his death sentence. The confessed murderer will now hang to death as a terrorist, the lowest of the low in our society.
This has brought mixed emotions to many liberals in Pakistan who celebrate with great relief and a renewed sense of hope the Court’s decision which not only cements the principle of rule of law by demanding that individuals cannot take the law into their own hands but must take their complaints through the due process of law, but asked some pointed questions about the use – and misuse – of blasphemy laws. The feeling of hope that, while we have a long way to go, the darkest days may finally be behind us cannot be understated.
However that feeling is also mixed with a discomfort with the death penalty for many who have seen it also misused and know that in killing someone the state takes on the ultimate power of life and death. It is a sentence that cannot be overturned. Death is permanent. Even when the death penalty has not been misused for political purposes, such as the case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, we have seen situations such as the hanging of people convicted when they were children over the outcry of international human rights groups. This has left an understandable distaste for the practice.
In the case of Salmaan Taseer’s killer, though, I believe the Court has made the correct decision. In the case, there is no question of the killer’s innocence as he has freely and proudly confessed to his crime. In that way it is a fairly open and shut case. In another way, the case is extraordinary. Such a case cannot be viewed without acknowledging the times we live in. By treating the convict in the same way that we have treated hundreds of other terrorists, we are sending a clear message that this is not the case of a hero or Ghazi but a common murderer and terrorist that has no place in our society.
So let us end this case with a feeling of hope. Hope that the Supreme Court’s courageous decision will mark a turning point when our justice system is following the popular sentiment against extremism and lawlessness. Hope that the pathetic end to this terrorist prevents others from following his evil path. And hope that with the closing of this case, we also begin to close a dark chapter in our nation’s history and begin a new, happier chapter for generations to come.
Yesterday I mentioned the curious fact that NAB has submitted a report to the Supreme Court including cases for which the agency admits it has “no details regarding to the dates of filing complaint, enquiry and investigation”. These are corruption cases for which complaints have been allowed to continue over the accused for decades with no resolution despite the fact that even agencies admit a lack of hard evidence.
Now I would like to compare to another case that we are told lacks evidence: Allegations against Lashkar-e-Taiba militant Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. Sartaj Aziz has once again asked for more evidence to against Lakhvi in order to conclude the case. This is important because government is not saying there is no evidence. Actually, the fact is that Lakhvi has been arrested and detained multiple times on orders of the Court. This alone suggests that there was sufficient evidence to frame specific charges arrest him.
A three member bench of the Supreme Court has requested the Chief Justice to weigh in on the proper interpretation of Articles 62 and 63 – articles that require elected officials to be “good Muslims” and prohibits them from defaming the Armed Forces. The respected Justices decision to send this request to the Chief Justice instead of answering the question themselves speaks to the task at hand. In fact, it is an impossible task.
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
–William Butler Yeats
Chief Justice of Pakistan Tassaduq Hussain Jillani has ordered that ‘those responsible for religious hate speech on social media must be brought to justice and children who face harassment at their schools because of their religious beliefs should also be protected’. The Chief Justice further recommended the creation of a a national council to overlook the protection of minorities. It is welcome news, but there’s a long way to travel between ‘saying’ and ‘doing’, and one worries that the esteemed Justice’s orders may be a case of ‘too little, too late…’