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Today Islamabad High Court held its first hearing in the appeal against the death sentence of Mumtaz Qadri who confessed tothe killing of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. Mr Qadri has continually stated his innocence, by justifying the attack as a response to the blasphemy committed by Governor Taseer who sought reform of the draconian blasphemy laws of Pakistan, and openly supported freedom for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman whom Taseer believed had been wrongly convicted of committing a blasphemy.
The appeal was heard by two-members of division bench of IHC’s comprising of Justice Noor ul Haq Qureshi and Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui and has been adjourned until 3rd February.
Mumtaz Qadri, a constable in the Punjab Police and member of its elite force, had filed an appeal before the court on 6 October, 2011. He has challenged the death sentence adjudged by the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC), by Rawalpindi Judge Syed Pervez Ali Shah on 1 October, 2011. The judge was later forced to flee the country after receiving death threats.
Throughout Pakistan, protesters from Sunni Tehrik have been chanting slogans in favor of Mumtaz Qadri's release. Threats and warnings have been declared to the Government speaking of retribution, through graffiti and banners across the country.
Mumtaz Qadri is considered "hero" of Islam by Sunni Tehrik. Reportedly, hundreds of Sunni Tehrik and Shabab-e-Milli Tehrik representatives and supporters were present outside the court and chanted slogans in favors of Mumtaz Qadri. Chairman of Sunni Tehrik Dr. Zafar Iqbal Jalali was leading the rally.
Strict security arrangements were visible along the road to the High court, which was blocked with barricades and a large deployment of police and special force personnel. Many building in the surrounding areas were being policed in an attempt to quell potential riots.
Advocate Sardar Mushtaq Gill, head of LEAD said;
"Human Rights defenders have great concerns about this appeal case for Mr Qadri. If Mr Qadri is acquitted it would send out the wrong message. Intolerance and violence will only be stopped by condemning such elements of society who murder and harass, with intent to destroy peace."
Wilson Chowdhry Chairman of the BPCA, said;
"Mumtaz Qadri is a self confessed murderer, Pakistan's laws are robust enough to ensure that his sentence is upheld. However, huge public clamour for the release of this pernicious killer, may lead to a poor decision based on threat and intimidation. It would be a devastating blow for the equality and justice movement in Pakistan, if Mr Qadri is set free it would undermine the huge humanitarian effort at great risk by Pakistan's reformists, dwindling their miniscule number to even fewer."
He added; "The Charlie Hebdo, Mumtaz Qadri and expected Asia Bibi Supreme Court hearing protests, will all magnify tensions against the Christian community of Pakistan. It is essential that the Government of Pakistan ensures their safety through one of the most tumultuous periods in the countries history."