2016: Mumtaz Qadri, assassin of Salman Taseer

Add comment February 29th, 2020 Headsman

On Leap Day in 2016, the bodyguard-turned-assassin of Punjab governor Salman Taseer was hanged for murder.

A longtime activist of the center-left Pakistan Peoples Party, Taseer was a prominent public figure for thirty-plus years and wrote a biography of hanged PPP Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1980.

A millionaire through financial services businesses and a minister in the federal government from 2007, Taseer became governor of the Punjab region in 2010. But as a secular- and liberal-minded elite, he was already becoming an artifact from a different Pakistan, and indeed his party was routed at the 2013 election.

The specific grievance nursed by our date’s principal Mumtaz Qadri, a former police commando recruited in 2010 to the personal security detail of the businessman/politician, was Taseer’s support for reversing the high-profile death sentence for blasphemy against a Pakistani Christian woman.* On January 4, 2011, Qadri opened up on his protective charge in an Islamabad marketplace, shooting him 28 times.

As a legal matter, this was all open and shut — but Qadri’s strike on behalf of Islamic militancy earned him wide admiration that reminded some observers of the Raj-era Punjabi assassin Ilm Deen. Hundreds of lawyers clamored to represent him pro bono while “cheering supporters clapped Qadri as he was bundled into court. ‘Death is acceptable for Muhammad’s slave,’ they chanted.” (Guardian)

Death is what he got, of course, although thousands subsequently marched in mourning and staged a parliament sit-in to demand sharia law. On the same day as that march, a suicide bomber attacked a Christian Easter gathering in a Lahore public park, killing 75 or more.

* After a yearslong legal odyssey, Asia Bibi’s conviction was vacated by the Pakistani Supreme Court only in 2018. She was allowed to emigrate to Canada in 2019. (Here’s a short interview with her Incidentally, a second politician, Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, was also assassinated in 2011 for advocating her position.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Murder,Pakistan,Ripped from the Headlines,Soldiers

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1697: Thomas Aikenhead

2 comments January 8th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1697, Scottish medical student Thomas Aikenhead was hanged on the road from Edinburgh to Leith for blasphemy, an already-archaic punishment inflicted for what reads like headstrong youthful atheism of a decidedly garden variety.

Aikenhead partook of the times’ emerging (albeit forbidden) store of humanist and skeptical literature, and chatted most unguardedly with University of Edinburgh “friends” who tattled to authorities to the extent that, not content with testifying against him, one published a pamphlet demanding the offender “atone with blood, the affronts of heaven’s offended throne.”

Said authorities scarcely elevated the dignity of the temporal throne in their own eagerness to swing a sledgehammer against a fly, trying the young hothead for his life under a Restoration law which by its own letter should not have lodged him in mortal peril until his third offense.

Thou Aikenhead, the indictment thundered in the second person:

shakeing off all fear of God and regaird to his majesties lawes, have now for more than a twelvemoneth by past…[vented] your wicked blasphemies against God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, and against the holy Scriptures, and all revealled religione…you said and affirmed, that divinity or the doctrine of theologie was a rapsidie of faigned and ill-invented nonsense, patched up partly of the morall doctrine of philosophers, and pairtly of poeticall fictions and extravagant chimeras

He called the Old Testament “Ezra’s fables”, Jesus the “Imposter Christ” (preferring Mahomet), and anticipated the extirpation of Christianity.

It was a bare two weeks from conviction to execution. Accounts of Aikenhead’s last days seem inconsistent; the prisoner recanted, possibly sincerely, but the Church — explicitly handed the power to at least reprieve him by its intervention — demanded hurried and “vigorous execution.”

Macaulay disgustedly pictured the scene:

The preachers who were the boy’s murderers crowded round him at the gallows, and, while he was struggling in the last agony, insulted Heaven with prayers more blasphemous than any thing that [Aikenhead] had ever uttered.

The singular punishment meted out this day — the last hanging for blasphemy throughout what was soon to become the United Kingdom — cast a long shadow into the coming century’s remarkable Scottish renaissance and lingers even today as a suggestion to some just how near the menace of theocracy might yet remain.

And Britain’s blasphemy laws? They’re only now facing repeal.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,Hanged,Heresy,History,Milestones,Notable Jurisprudence,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Scotland

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