ISLAMABAD: The country’s top court Wednesday upheld death sentence for Mumtaz Qadri , who had killed former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer. The court also restored charges of terrorism against him. Qadri, a former commando of Punjab Elite Force, was part of governor’s security team when he shot him 28 times during broad daylight in 2011 in Islamabad.

The legal experts say that the convict, who is detained at Adiala Jail, can file review petition against three-judge order in the larger bench of the Supreme Court and also appeal for mercy to the President of Pakistan. He will be hanged if Qadri chooses not to exploit these options or fails to secure any benefit from them as the country has lifted a moratorium on executions. Qadri was feted as a hero by his supporters for killing the politician over his vocal opposition to blasphemy laws of the country. The trigger point for the killer cop was reportedly Taseer’s meeting with blasphemy convict Aasia Bibi in jail and his declaring the blasphemy law as ‘black law’.

An Islamabad anti-terrorism court in October 2011 awarded death sentence to Qadri under Pakistan Penal Code and Anti-Terrorism Act 1997. However, the Islamabad High Court in March 2015 maintained the death sentence but dropped the charges of terrorism. The Supreme Court yesterday dismissed Mumtaz Qadri’s appeal against the IHC order of death sentence . It allowed the federation’s appeal against the same high court order for dropping terrorism charges, restoring the trial court verdict. The trial court had sentence Qadri to death under Section 302 of PPC and Section 7 of Anti Terrorism Act (ATA). The 7 ATA is related to creating panic and harassment in the public.

Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, heading the three-member bench, before the announcement of the order thanked the counsels, and in one line order declared: “the conviction and sentence allowed by the trial court are restored.” Qadri was hailed as a hero by some religious hardliners and at the hearings at the trial court he was showered with rose petals by some lawyers. Former Lahore High Court judge Mian Nazir Akhtar and former LHC chief justice Khawaja Sharif pleaded his case in the Supreme Court, asking the court to convert the death sentence into some lesser punishment.

Khawaja Sharif did not comment on the short order but said they would decide about filing the review petition after examining the detailed judgment. However, the federation’s counsel Mian Abdur Rauf appreciated the court decision. As the bench was hearing the case Qadri’s supporters had planned to hold protest in front of the Supreme Court building but they could not do so due to tight security. Police arrested many of his supporters.

“We arrested around 200 supporters in Rawalpindi and Islamabad on the first day (Monday) of the case hearing at the Supreme Court,” a policeman on the condition of not disclosing his name told The Nation. “Qadri had no personal enmity with the governor but killed him as he had used obnoxious words against the blasphemy law,” his counsel Mian Nazir stated in the court. But the court during the three days proceedings made it clear that criticising the blasphemy law is not blasphemy and no one has right to decide himself regarding punishing a blasphemer. The counsel also contended that the ex-cop had no bad intention; rather, his mental condition on that day became such that he considered his act justified. Justice Asif Khosa said: “If we accept this argument then every person after committing (a) serious crime will say that in certain mental condition, he had done that act.”

The judge also dismissed the argument of provocation. He said “provocation is no exception” and the present case is “not of sustained provocation”.

Justice Dost Muhammad, another member of the bench, said there are two type of execution: one is judicial, and other is private. He questioned if there was any law in the whole world that allowed private execution. He said when the courts are there to decide cases then it was not acceptable that any citizen himself make a decision about punishing another citizen as per his/her own conscience. Qadri’s counsels have insisted that something must have happened before the incident, as Qadri “is a quite and straightforward person” and can’t even imagine killing the governor. They however defended the blasphemy law and said that it was made completely in light of Islamic teachings.

The blasphemy law was introduced during the regime of General Ziaul Haq in 1986 and around 1,194 people have been charged under it since then.

Pakistan Penal Code’s Section 295 dates back to pre-partition India when it was introduced in 1860. But three clauses – A, B & C – were added in Section 295 during General Zia’s era. At least 564 Muslims, 459 Ahmadis, 150 Christians and 21 Hindu have been in Pakistan jails under blasphemy charges since 1986, says a report of National Commission on Justice and Peace. Prior to 1986, only 14 cases pertaining to blasphemy were reported, according to it. AFP adds: “This judgement has also closed for him the option of seeking forgiveness from the family of the deceased because the restoration of the terrorism conviction means that the state will itself become a party against the convict,” lawyer Muhammad Amir Malik, who was present at the hearing, said.

Moderates voiced their optimism over Wednesday’s ruling. “Suspend your cynicism. Pakistan is changing. Still some way to go. Too much past baggage. But a path is taken. And it’s the correct one,” Nadeem Paracha, a social commentator, tweeted after the verdict. “JUSTICE... finally!!” tweeted Aamna Taseer, the politician’s widow. The government lifted a moratorium on executions in December after Taliban gunmen massacred more than 150 people at a school, at first only in terror-related offences, but later for all capital cases.

Around 200 people have been executed since the moratorium was lifted, and no mercy petitions to the president have been accepted. A grand National Action Plan has also been put in place to counter terrorism, which has seen the state crack down on militant groups it previously tolerated and jail preachers convicted for hate speech.