Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday has upheld the death sentence of Mumtaz Qadri, while rejecting his appeal against the judgment of Islamabad High Court (IHC) in former governor of Punjab Salman Taseer’s murder case. Qadri had challenged the IHC verdict on his death sentence in the Supreme Court. Lawyers for Mumtaz Qadri filed the plea in the apex court claiming that the matter was not about murder but provocation. This historic verdict by the SC is depicting the dramatic hardening of Pakistan’s attitude towards religious extremists; finally this man who has been evading his punishment for five years will be handed to him of what is due.

Mumtaz Qadri committed the murder of the senior Pakistan Peoples Party member on 4th January 2011. After Qadri confessed to the murder, on 1st October 2011, the Anti-Terrorist Court of Rawalpindi sentenced Mumtaz Qadri to death twice. Qadri had appealed against the death sentence verdict. On 9 March 2015, the IHC suspended the provisions of terrorism and upheld Qadri’s death sentence. Mumtaz Qadri’s lawyer had stated that ‘punishing a blasphemer was a religious duty’.

His appeal hearings at the IHC have attracted large crowds of banner-waving supporters from the country’s majority Barelvis, a community not unknown for its hardliner views on religion. Qadri also attracted some of the country’s most senior lawyers to his defence team, including two former judges. But three chief justices this week rejected arguments that Qadri had the right to take the law into his own hands, or that merely criticising blasphemy laws constitutes an insult against Islam.

It is significant that the Supreme Court rejected the lower court’s decision to overturn Qadri’s conviction under the country’s terrorism legislation, which would have reduced the matter to regular statute law. That would have relieved the state of the final decision on whether to execute Qadri and led to Taseer’s family being pressured to forgive Qadri under controversial “blood money” provisions. We have judicial precedence now, meaning arguments and indictments based on the notion that criticising the blasphemy law is punishable will be discarded by the courts at first instance. This will in turn provide space to politicians and activists to push more strongly for the blasphemy law’s reform.

If the President does not approve his mercy petition, as he declined to do for many minorities, underage convicts and mentally handicapped death row prisoners, we might finally see a real monster make his way to the gallows under the Anti-Terrorism Act.