View Full Version : Perspective By Imaan Mazari-Hazir - 4th March 2016

4th March 2016, 09:21 AM
I woke up to the news that Mumtaz Qadri had been hanged. A smile immediately appeared on my face as I said to my family: “Finally. Justice has been served!”

I was foolish to allow my emotions to control my sense of right and wrong. I had taken a stance – when Thatcher died – that celebrating someone’s death is never acceptable. And here I was, justifying my joy because this man shot a sitting governor 27 times in broad daylight. I couldn’t help it at that juncture – I had become one of the many citizens of a country so scarred and broken that the call for violence seemed like the only answer.

The hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, in accordance with the law, is a crucial manifestation of the state asserting its writ like never before. To carry out a sentence against a man revered by the religious right is unprecedented in Pakistan. Therefore, my sense of pride in the fact that justice and rule of law had prevailed was not entirely misplaced – but my priorities were.

As a lawyer who constantly speaks in favour of human rights, how could I be so quick to condone the cycle of violence tearing my country apart under the guise of justice? Indeed, not carrying out the penalty would have set the wrong precedent and therefore, I wholeheartedly praised the government for its bold step in following through. One cannot condone Qadri’s misconceived perceptions of right and wrong and his decision to undertake an act that resulted in the loss of a human life.

However, one cannot condone the increasing calls for blood in this society either. Taseer campaigned for amendments to the blasphemy law, inherited by Pakistan at inception and distorted by the military dictator, Ziaul Haq. Where do we stand on that front today? Has the blasphemy law been amended? Have we instituted an education and awareness policy regarding the blasphemy law?

Qadri’s hanging sets the right precedent – it clarifies to those who take the law into their own hands that they will be dealt with firmly by the state. But the fundamental question is whether this precedent is enough. That question urges you to reconsider your conceptions of right and wrong.

Is it right to punish a murderer? Yes, it most certainly is. But is it right for the state to exercise a monopoly over violence, when thousands of people are wrongfully convicted under that very system? Confessions obtained through torture, convictions based on inadequate evidence and detention for protection are problems that still plague Pakistan’s faltering criminal justice system.

While Taseer and Qadri are both gone, we need to ask ourselves, as a society, whether our current state is a matter of pride or great embarrassment. While punishment is important, prevention should be our priority. Instead of letting lynch mobs and self-righteous right-wingers take the lives of innocent people, should we not be strengthening the framework that they misuse to justify these acts?

Hanging Qadri is the first step of a process that we have unknowingly initiated – a catalyst for change. If Qadri’s hanging results in an open and honest debate about the blasphemy law and substantive amendments to that law, we will have succeeded. If innocent people wrongly convicted of blasphemy are cleared of their charges and set free, Qadri’s hanging will not be part of an endless cycle of violence.

While we have set the right precedent for people who take the law into their own hands, this precedent will be counterproductive unless we ensure that our legal system is altered to prevent injustice in the first place.

It is time we utilised this opportunity to review our laws and policies. Amending the blasphemy law is no longer a matter of debate – the content of those amendments is what should be discussed and followed by decisive action to rectify the flaws in our criminal justice system.

The writer is a lawyer.