ISLAMABAD: Within minutes of the verdict, a celebratory sense enveloped the Islamabad High Court (IHC) premises where Mumtaz Qadri’s supporters distributed sweetmeats to anyone who was willing to share their joy.
Their happiness was shared by those who defended Mumtaz Qadri in the court.
While the IHC upheld the murder case against Qadri for killing former governor Salman Taseer, his lawyers were happy the terrorism charges against Qadri had been dropped, thanks to their efforts.
Mumtaz Qadri, who was employed to provide security to Taseer, killed the latter in January 2011 in Islamabad. He was convicted by the Anti Terrorism Court (ATC) in October the same year, under both section 7 of the Anti Terrorism Act (ATA) and under section 302 of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) respectively.
With the terrorism charges dropped, glorifying Qadri will no longer be a crime
IHC division bench comprising Justice Noorul Haq N. Qureshi and Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui set aside his conviction under section 7 of the ATA but upheld the death sentence under 302 of the PPC. This means that Qadri is guilty of murder but not terrorism.
Following the announcement of the verdict, Qadri’s lawyers gathered in the office of the president of Islamabad High Court Bar Association (IHCBA).
They congratulated retired Justice Mian Nazir Ahmed, the senior counsel of Mumtaz Qadri, and distributed sweetmeats among the lawyers.
Some of them even made impromptu, fiery speeches and chanted slogans in favour of Taseer’s killer.
After witnessing these celebrations for a short while, IHCBA President Raja Aleem Khan Abbasi, who has strong affiliation with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), left the room, saying that he was due in a case.
Once the excitement died down, Qadri’s counsel Justice Nazir told Media: “The glass is half full and not half empty; the court has delivered half justice to my client.”
Explaining the significance of the judgment, he said that “it will no longer be an offence to praise him (Qadri) as the terrorism charges have been dropped,” adding that under the Protection of Pakistan Act (PPA), “glorifying a terrorism convict has became a cognizable offence”.
But now that Qadri was no longer a ‘terrorist’, glorifying him was no longer a crime, he added.
However, this is not all the verdict has done. There was also some talk that Qadri’s team could appeal that his trial had been an unfair one – the trial had been carried out in an Anti-Terrorism Court although now Qadri is no longer charged with a terrorist act.
When Justice Nazir was asked if Qadri’s lawyer would request the court to remand this case back to the sessions court for retrial as the ATC cannot try ordinary murder cases, he replied: “If the case returns to the trial stage, it may be transferred to the military court.”
He said that the future strategy would be evolved after consulting other lawyers and Qadri’s father.
“Everyone will be involved in deciding whether or not we will go to the Supreme Court to appeal the fact that his conviction and death sentence (for murder) had been upheld,” he said.
The government lawyers, on the other hand, were tight lipped and would not explain whether or not the state would appeal the decision.
Advocate General Islamabad Mian Abdul Rauf said he could not comment when asked if the government was challenging the order or not.
A senior law officer of the federal government, on the condition of anonymity, predicted that there were few chances of the government going into appeal.
“It will be difficult for the government to challenge the decision as lawyers were reluctant to appear in this case, on behalf of the government,” he said.
Legal experts pointed out another loophole that will work to Qadri’s advantage with this judgment.
Raja Amir Abbas Hassan, an advocate of the Supreme Court, said that a conviction under only the PPC (and not the terrorism law) meant that Qadri was now guilty of a compoundable offence.
Those guilty of a compoundable offence can try and opt for an out-of-court settlement, which is not possible if someone is convicted at the ATA. Advocate Hassan pointed out that Qadri could go free if the Taseer family pardoned him.
Heavy security was deployed in and around the IHC building in preparation for the verdict’s announcement. Special contingents of anti-riot police were deployed at the entrances of the IHC. Entry into the courtroom where the verdict was announced was also restricted. A deputy registrar and an assistant registrar were also present inside the courtroom to monitor the situation inside the court.