The Mall Road of Lahore remained blocked for several hours on Monday as hundreds of supporters of convicted murderer Mumtaz Qadri staged a sit-in at Faisal Chowk demanding the removal of the death penalty served on the self-confessed killer of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer.
Around 1,000 protesters stayed on the Mall Road late into the cold Lahore night reciting Na’ats and chanting slogans which mostly ranged from mild defiance to open threats and abuses. The protesters had erected barbed wires and did not let any traffic move causing a massive gridlock on adjacent roads.
Mumtaz Qadri was awarded death sentence after he killed former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, while he was performing duties as his guard. Qadri exhausted his appeals options after the Supreme Court upheld his death penalty saying in its ruling that objections to blasphemy law did not constitute blasphemy and at any rate, Qadri had no authority to kill the governor. Qadri recently filed a mercy petition to the president to avoid the death penalty.
Qadri’s followers and sympathisers have since held a number of protest demonstrations against his conviction.
On Monday, protesters caused a huge traffic deadlock on the Mall Road as they occupied the square in front of the Punjab Assembly causing nuisance to a number of commuters.
A number of ambulances were seen stuck in the massive traffic jams. Several patients, lawyers, students, teachers and government employees were also held up in the traffic, some of them for hours. Many of them demanded stern action against the protesters.
Arslan Maqsood, a student who is preparing for his CSS exam and was stuck in traffic, told Pakistan Today that it was unfair to block such an important road as it increased the misery of the commuters significantly. He said that the protesters had torn into pieces the National Action Plan (NAP) by showing open defiance and delivering provocative speeches against the government even as police and other law enforcement agencies kept their distance and let them do whatever they wanted. He said that it would be a defeat of the State if Mumtaz Qadri is released due to the pressure of these protesters.
“The use of loudspeakers at a public place and inciting the participants to violence must be a crime keeping in view the critical security situation of the country,” he maintained.
The protesters were carrying placards to show support for Mumtaz Qadri and demand his release. The religious leaders hailing from the Sunni sect were taking promises from the participants that they would not allow the government to function if Qadri is not released. Some media persons were also asked to shout slogans in favour of Qadri if they wanted to cover the protest.
Syed Tajammal Hussain, a government employee who works in Punjab Civil Secretariat told Pakistan Today that it took three hours to reach Ganga Ram Hospital from his office because of the traffic jam. He was of the view that government must not allow the protesters to block the Mall Road and should allot a permanent place of protest to them like Nasir Bagh or Race Course Park.
“The traffic problems have significantly increased since the start of construction work on Orange Line Train and whenever a protest happens, commuters suffer badly,” he concluded.
Rana Abdul Rehman, a practicing lawyer, said that some of his clients could not reach his office due to the traffic gridlock on the Mall. He was critical of the protesters as he said that Qadri had been offered due process of law, which was a lot more than he offered to a representative of the State before he brutally gunned him down. He said that the State must not allow the protesters to make a joke of the constitution and judicial process of the country.