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Law crisis

October 26, 2011

The Pakistani judge who sentenced Governor Salman Taseer's murderer to execution has fled the country following death threats. The incident has raised more questions about the safety of court officials in Pakistan.

Supporters of Qadri demonstrate against his death sentence
Lawyers supporting Qadri ransacked the offices of Justice Pervez Ali Shah earlier this monthImage: DW

Pervez Ali Shah has left Pakistan bound for the Middle East after religious fundamentalist groups repeatedly harassed him for having sentenced the murderer of the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, to death. Earlier this month, Shah's courtroom in Rawalpindi was ransacked by Islamist lawyers, forcing him to take a long period of leave from work.

Blasphemy as an excuse for violence

Governor Salman Taseer(center) with his two daughters
Salman Taseer was killed by his bodyguard in JanuaryImage: DW

The Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, had been very forthright in his opposition to the country's blasphemy law, which can be used to prosecute any individual whom it is alleged has spoken out against the Prophet. Taseer's bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, apparently opposed his employer's views and assassinated him in January this year. Qadri was subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to death by Judge Pervez Ali Shah.

Lawyers and leaders across the country have expressed their disappointment at Shah's departure. Public Prosecutor Saif ul Maluk who fought on the government's behalf in the Taseer case, said that Shah's life had been threatened and this had led him to leave the country. According to ul Maluk, the government had provided Shah with enough security, but intelligence reports suggested his life was in danger.

Former law minister and lawyer, Iqbal Haider referred to the incident as very upsetting, saying that the Supreme Court in Pakistan would have to sit up and take notice. "This means, might is right, not the rule of law," he said.

Are judges safe in Pakistan?

Meanwhile, the safety of judges in the country seems to have taken a turn for the worse after another judge, Ghulam Mustafa Mughal, was attacked by an unknown assailant on Tuesday in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Local police have declined to comment on the reason behind the attack and have not drawn any comparisons with Shah’s case.

Fundamentalists have been suspected of attacking judges in the past. Back in 1997, a retired judge at the Lahore court, Arif Iqbal Bhatti, was attacked and murdered in his chambers. Bhatti had earlier acquitted two individuals accused of blasphemy, a move which triggered an angry response by religious fundamentalist groups.

Pakistani Christians light candle next to portrait of their slain leader Shahbaz Bhatti
Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down in March this year for his views against the blasphemy lawImage: AP

Reacting to security problems for Pakistan's judiciary, Naseer Bhutta, a member of the legislative assembly and of the ruling Muslim League (N) in Punjab, said that the government was responsible for providing security to all its citizens. "Considering the situation today and the fear among people, the state has completely failed to carry out its responsibilities," he alleged.

Author: Manasi Gopalakrishnan (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Grahame Lucas