03292017Headline:

[Newsline] A Tale of Two Murders: Searching for Equal Justice

It is the responsibility of a country’s judiciary to provide “equal justice under law” to every single citizen of the state without difference. Without an independent and honest judiciary, all the rights guaranteed to citizens under the Constitution of Pakistan become worthless – mere words on paper. Pakistan’s constitution does guarantee equal rights to (almost) all its citizens but are these nugatory words or worthwhile promises? Here, we look at two recent scenarios to examine the country’s judicial system for the answer. This is a tale of two murders.

In January 2011, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s most influential province, was gunned down in Islamabad by a member of his own security team. The killer, Mumtaz Qadri, carried out the despicable attack in broad daylight. He confessed to the act and expressed pride in it. Hours into the killing, Qadri was elevated to sainthood and hundreds of rallies comprising thousands of people paid homage to what they called his ‘grand service to Islam.’ Those who came out to honour the criminal significantly outnumbered those who lit a candlelight vigil for the victim. The very upholders of law garlanded Qadri and received him as a hero.

Seven months into the proceedings, no verdict has yet been reached on the case. One may ask what more evidence the courts are looking for to implicate Qadri in this heinous crime.

Five months after Mr Taseer’s tragic murder, another killing gripped news headlines across Pakistan. An unarmed young man, Sarfaraz Shah, was killed at close range by a team of Rangers in Karachi. Video evidence of the brutality soon surfaced and six Rangers were arrested. Two months into case hearings, a verdict was reached. Shahid Zafar, the man behind the trigger, was recently sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court in Karachi. The other men arrested (five paramilitary soldiers and one civilian) were sentenced to life imprisonment and heavy fines.

Considering Shah’s case as standard, a verdict on Mr Taseer’s case should have been recorded five months back. This did not happen and nothing is expected to happen anytime soon. Unfortunately, Shah and Taseer were not equal citizens of the state. Talking of equality of its citizens, even murders are not equally treated in Pakistan. One was met with condemnation, the other with veneration.

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