No One Can Take Law Into Own Hands
No person shall be deprived of life or liberty save in accordance with law (Article 9 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973).
He who kills a soul unless it be (in legal punishment) for murder or for causing disorder and corruption on the earth will be as if he had killed all humankind; and he who saves a life will be as if he had saved the lives of all humankind. (The Qur’an, Al-Ma’idah, 5:32).
This is the reason Islam is proud to claim itself a peaceful religion of the world. But in today’s world, Islam has become the example of terror and uncivility and the followers of Islam may be one of the main reasons in developing this image.
Blasphemy law in Pakistan has been a source of conflict between liberal/minorities and religious parties. The abuse/misuse of this is law is common in our society and in most of the cases peoples use it to fix their personal grudges, as proved by chronological history.
Mr. Salman Taseer, Governor of the province of Punjab, belonged to the Pakistan People’s Party and was a liberal and bold person who was giving tough time to the Punjab Government and had become a headache for it. Ms. Aasia Bibi was languishing in jail and was sentenced to death for blasphemy charges under Section 295-C. Mr. Taseer one day preempted and pardoned the sentence pronounced by the court of law to Aasia Bibi in a blasphemy case. Mr. Taseer spoke against the misuse/abuse of blasphemy laws and told the media that the poor and minorities are being targeted under this law by the overwhelming majority of the country and bringing a bad name to Islam in the comity of nations. He further said that people are being implicated in false cases and there is no mechanism for fair investigation and fair trial in such hyper sensitive cases in the country, owing to the weak criminal justice system.
The Governor termed it as a man-made law and demanded reform in it, to minimize its abuse. The religious parties who were aligned with the dominant party in Punjab, raised hue and cry in the country against this statement by the Governor and dubbed it as blasphemy committed by him. Mr. Taseer explained his position in a number of talk shows and reiterated that he could not imagine to commit blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). He explained that the poor and innocent people are being targeted by the existing blasphemy law particularly under Section 295-C. A heated debate was on the rise and on the unfortunate day of January 2011, when Mr. Taseer was returning from a restaurant in Kohsar Market Rawalpindi, Malik Mumtaz Qadri who was deputed as his bodyguard killed him cruelly and brutally and later surrendered himself to other bodyguards. Mr. Shaharyar Taseer, son of the slain Governor, lodged an FIR in the nearby police station on the same day.
Malik Mumtaz Qadri was tried and sentenced to death under s.302 of Pakistan Penal Code and s.7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act by the trial court. On appeal against the judgment of the trial court, Islamabad High Court’s double bench lifted the s.7 of ATA while the death sentence under s.302 of PPC remained intact. The Supreme Court of Pakistan decided the case boldly and in accordance with the law and revived the s.7 of ATA alongwith s.302 of PPC. In a review petition the SC rejected the prayer of enlarging the bench owing to the fact that the appellant had failed to generate appropriate grounds for it.
The SC has categorically said that no one can be allowed to take the law into his or her own hands and no one can be allowed to become the prosecutor, investigator, judge or executioner himself or herself. A policeman, who is also a trained commando, must be aware of this. Should such unlawful practice be allowed, the doors of anarchy will automatically be opened and no one would be able to save the country from chaos. Religious vigilantism cannot be allowed to play with the lives of innocent people.
Neither Islam nor law of the land permits such inhuman acts. Rather such acts appear to make fun of our peaceful religion and bring a bad name to it. Therefore, the SC at the outset of the judgment had categorically said that they were to decide the case in accordance with existing laws and not in accordance how the law should be. The SC posed very relevant questions as to whether an individual had authority to decide if any uttered word was tantamount to blasphemy, and even if it was committed (which has to be decided by legal and judicial procedure), could any individual still take the law into his or her own hand? The answer is a big NO because if this trend continues then the existence of the Pakistani society will be at stake.
The element of personal grudge is always there in blasphemy cases and in the case of Mumtaz Qadri as well. For example, the appellant made a statement that he had exchanged hot words before killing the Governor (though this exchange of words could not be proved by the appellant afterwards). He further added in his statement that Salman Taseer was an immoral person etc. and merely over such flimsy assumptions he had killed the Governor. The SC said that Qadri had been deputed for the protection of the Governor’s life from outside attack yet he himself decided to take his life even though he being a policeman knew very well that due course of law should be applied. Killing by own bodyguard is a treacherous act. In the Indira Ghandi murder case, the Indian Supreme Court wrote similar words in the judgment and said that the guards were under a duty to protect the Prime Minister’s life yet they themselves killed her. There is relevance of this case with the case of Mumtaz Qadri as that was also motivated by religious sentiments. In para No.17 of the judgment, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has said that, “Commission of blasphemy is abhorrent and immoral besides being a manifestation of intolerance but at the same time a false allegation regarding commission of such an offence is equally detestable besides being culpable. If our religion of Islam comes down heavily upon commission of blasphemy then Islam is also very tough against those who level false allegations of a crime. It is, therefore, for the State of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to ensure that no innocent person is compelled or constrained to face an investigation or a trial on the basis of false or trumped up allegations regarding commission of such an offence.”
On the other hand, the civil society which has always spoken out against capital punishment, should have also raised voice for turning Mumtaz Qadri’s death sentence into life imprisonment, and through this gesture they could have won the hearts and soul of some religious segments of the society i.e. the Sunnis who are against extremism and jihadism, but this opportunity has now been lost.
The Government of Pakistan must bring the much needed reform in criminal justice of the country so that people’s confidence in the criminal justice system could be restored and the true sense of rule of law in the country could develop.
For detailed study, please read:
- PLD 2016 SC 17 (Appeal against Islamabad High Court Judgment).
- PLD 2016 SC 146 (Review against SC Judgment).
- Kehar Singh and Others v State, AIR 1988 SC 1883.
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