SC debates ‘authority of individuals’ to punish blasphemers


Justice Khosa asks whether individual has the right to act on his own in sensitive matters such as blasphemy without even ascertaining the facts first

The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought assistance from the legal counsel defending Mumtaz Qadri, convict who assassinated former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer in 2011, to focus his arguments on the question of permitting individuals, in the current times, to deal on their own with an accused of committing blasphemy — that too on hearsay.

“Will it not instill fear in the society if today everybody starts taking law in his own hand by dealing with the sensitive matter like blasphemy himself — without consulting the courts — that too without going into the true facts,” inquired Justice Asif Saeed Khosa who was heading a three-judge Supreme Court bench.

The bench had taken up two identical appeals against the March 9 Islamabad High Court judgment of accepting Mumtaz Qadri’s plea to annul provisions of the Anti Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997 for assassinating Taseer.

Advocate Mian Nazir Akhtar had moved appeal on behalf of Malik Muhammad Mumtaz Qadri, while the other by the federal government also assailing the IHC verdict.

The high court had dismissed Qadri’s petition against the award of death sentence under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) but accepted his application to void ATA’s Section 7 that asks for the punishment of death for committing acts of terrorism.

Quoting instances like Nov 4, 2014 Kot Radha Kishan where a Christian couple was lynched or that of Nowshera where a Christian was accused of blasphemy with the connivance of the local police merely because he had property dispute with someone, Justice Khosa enquired whether individual has the right to act on his own in such matters without even ascertaining the facts first.

Justice Dost Muhammad Khan, a member of the bench, also emphasised the need of exercising restraint because blasphemy cases were sensitive in nature and prone to be misused.

Allowing individuals to deal with such matters on their own was fraught with danger, especially in divided societies like ours, when our religious scholars were even reluctant to offer prayers after members of other school of thought, he maintained.

“Today’s Pakistan is not the one envisioned by Quaid-e-Azam since it has been fragmented in different sects and ethnicities instead of becoming one nation because of personal greed, benefit, self-interest and intolerance towards other sect and non-Muslims.”

Justice Khan also quoted his experience when being a senior judge at Abbottabad he got stuck in traffic because of a protest by some religious leaders against the infamous caricatures.

“In that traffic jam an ambulance with a woman in labour pain was also suffering immensely,” the judge regretted adding we were in a habit of punishing innocent fellow Muslims for the follies of those who were sitting comfortably in the West.

Salmaan Taseer was assassinated outside his residence adjacent to an upscale market in the federal capital on Jan 4, 2011.