Qadri’s legacy: Islamabad under siege

On 27 March, thousands gathered in Islamabad’s twin city Rawalpindi to commemorate the Chehlum of Mumtaz Qadri, marking 40 days since his death. Qadri was executed for the 2011 murder of the governor of the province of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who opposed Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Many extremists in Pakistan welcomed the murder of Taseer and celebrated Qadri as a hero before and a martyr after his death.

Supporters of Qadri from all over the country were called on by two extremist parties, Sunni Tehreek (ST) and Tehreek-i-Labbaik ya Rasool (SAW), to march on the Parliament House in Islamabad, under heavy resistance of riot police and paramilitary forces.

In an attempt to hold back protesters, police fired tear gas into the crowds. When the protesters reached D-Chowk in the city’s Red Zone, the square in front of the Parliament House, the situation turned more violent as participants removed and torched containers and destroyed private and public property. Police officials later denied firing live rounds at protesters.

Around 1000 people were arrested and over a dozen injured. “We are considering imposing Anti-Terrorism Act Section 7 on these protesters”, City Police Officer Israr Ahmed Abbasi told Dawn Newspaper, referring to a law dealing with creating terror and violence in society. “A case has not been registered yet, but consultations with legal experts are underway.”

The protests were largely ignored by the media leading to a major lack of coverage. Media regulatory body Pemra warned channels to avoid coverage “driven by crass commercialisation like in India.”

At D-Chowk, nearly 2000 pro-Qadri protesters continued a sit-in, demanding the establishment of Shariah law, the release of arrested Sunni clerics and leaders, and a guaranty for the enforcement of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. They also insisted that the government should officially declare Mumtaz Qadri a martyr.

Protesters ended the sit-in after four days, claiming the government had agreed to their demands, but interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan later denied any deal had been made.

Simon Engelkes studied political science at Freie Universität Berlin and American University of Beirut, with a focus on armed conflict and political violence. He is currently working as a research intern with a think tank in Islamabad. He tweets @englks.

Pakistan: Minister for minorities assassinated

Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for religious minorities has been assassinated . Bhatti, a Christian, was a vocal opponent of the controversial blasphemy law and had repeatedly asked for it to be reformed. Pamphlets found at the scene of his killing warned of a similar fate for anyone opposed to the blasphemy law. His killing comes barely two months after Salman Taseer was killed for calling the law to be amended.

Salmaan Taseer assassinated for blasphemy stance

The dark forces of religious extremism have once again struck in Pakistan, with the assassination of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer.

Taseer was apparently killed by a guard, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri. As is inevitable these days, a Facebook page has now been set up in support of the alleged assassin, stating: “We Support the action of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri and want that Supreme Court of Pakistan take immediate action against his arrest and order to free him.”

Qadri is reported to have said he was motivated by Taseer’s stance against Pakistan’s rigid blasphemy laws. Blasphemy can carry the death sentence in Pakistan, though no one has yet been executed under the law.

The Washington Post’s Greg Linch has compiled several of Taseer’s anti-blasphemy law tweets here. Taseer also pledged support to Punjabi Christian woman Aasia Bibi, who was convicted of blasphemy late last year.

In an interview with Pakistan’s Newsline in December, Taseer was asked if he was worried about fatwas issued against him. He replied:

People also issued fatwas against Benazir Bhutto and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. They issued fatwas against basant. These are a bunch of self-appointed maulvis who no one takes seriously. The thing I find disturbing is that if you examine the cases of the hundreds tried under this law, you have to ask how many of them are well-to-do? How many businessmen? Why is it that only the poor and defenceless are targeted? How come over 50% of them are Christians when they form less than 2% of the country’s population. This points clearly to the fact that the law is misused to target minorities.