Mumtaz Qadri’s hanging and the death penalty debate

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

Mumtaz Qadri was hanged on 29.02.2016 for having assassinated Governor Salmaan Taseer five years ago.  Qadri was given a fair shake by the courts.  He went through two appeals process and a review.  Ultimately, he forwarded a mercy petition to the President of Pakistan who rejected it. What was unusual were the circumstances –  the Pakistani government against all odds grabbed the bull by the horns and executed a murderer.

This death penalty debate that some people have started is utterly useless in the present context. I am someone who stands for the eventual abolition of death penalty. This has to happen in a legal framework.  The framework in this case are Pakistan’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) which operates as minimum standards to be incorporated in national legislation.  The reason why these minimum standards exist in international law is a nod towards the idea that different societies are evolving at different speeds. Pakistan’s requirement under the ICCPR is to limit the usage of death penalty in the most extreme and rare cases. One may legitimately argue that Qadri’s case was legitimate and necessary. This does not mean that one is not committed to an evolution to a point where death penalty would be unnecessary.

To do that first you have to take death penalty off the books for many of the offences that we currently have it on including blasphemy and adultery. Next thing is to ensure that the culture of impunity and violence is curbed. Once the society evolves to a point where all of us (and not just 2 percent liberals) understand that taking a life is immoral can we finally progress to a point where we can contemplate an end to death penalty in Pakistan. Saying that Mumtaz Qadri should not have been hanged is an immoral suggestion.  His imprisonment at Adiala Jail was no punishment at all. Not only was he surrounded by adoring fans even amongst jailers, he was egging on people from within to follow his example.  Already one blasphemy accused was attacked and wounded by a police officer acting on his instructions. In the end if the government would have backed down, it would only lead to many more such Mumtaz Qadris.  The principle here is not whether death penalty is immoral or not – it may or may not be immoral but it is the law.  Without maximum punishment being meted out in the case, the message to the society would have been simple: kill people in the name of religion and be pardoned in the end.

States cannot be governed through idealism alone.  States act in self interest.  They are pragmatic entities and sometimes some of their actions are abhorrent.  Pakistani state’s crisis for at least two decades has been that it has lost the monopoly on violence.  The erosion of the writ of the state was against the interests of the state as well as citizens.  By hanging Mumtaz Qadri, the state has sent out a clear message to the naysayers i.e. it will not be blackmailed in the name of religion.  For Pakistan to have a level playing field for competing ideas, the existence of a neutral and moderate state is sine qua non.  Therefore one has to back the state in this case and others like it.  The time for radical reform and even an end to death penalty will come one day but that time is not now.

  • Usman

    Media blanked out the news that more than one lakh attended the funeral of Qadri.

  • Yasser Latif Hamdani

    The total number was less than 50,000. And it doesn’t matter if it was more… the fact is that Qadri has been hanged. Nothing you can do about it.

  • Usman

    It’s good and I am happy that Qadri was hanged. I commend Pakistan government and the courts to take such an unpopular decision.

  • Nuree

    Tensions flare up over derogatory Facebook post, mob attacks police station
    Prohibitory orders had been promulgated to prevent the assembly of people in the area.

    Police had to open fire and burst teargas shells to quell a rampaging mob that had attacked Illambazar police station in Birbhum district on Tuesday afternoon. One person was injured in police firing and had been admitted to a hospital.
    Prohibitory orders had been promulgated to prevent the assembly of people in the area. The attack on the police and the ransacking of police vehicles followed after Muslims protested to a derogatory Facebook post on the Prophet on Monday.
    The Hindu youth, who had allegedly used his Facebook account to post the derogatory remark, was identified from Guricha village of Illambazar. But he was said to be absconding.
    As the news about the post spread, Muslims in the area began to protest and gather. They burnt an effigy during which some shops by the roadside reportedly caught fire and were partially damaged. A fire brigade had to be called in to douse the flames. Tension began to mount as more and more people got to know about the Facebook post and the police station was raided by a mob.
    Window panes were broken, scooters, motorcycles and other vehicles parked outside the police station were damaged. Some police men sustained injuries, it was learnt. By evening, the Rapid Action Force was deployed in the area and the situation was said to be under control, according to police sources.
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