Salmaan Taseer’s Killer and the Death Penalty Question

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.

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