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Central & South Asia
Pakistan charges Taseer's 'killer'
Police commando claims killing the Punjab governor was required under Quranic and Islamic laws.
Last Modified: 14 Feb 2011 14:35 GMT
In addition to Qadri's three defence lawyers, more than 500 others have offered to defend him for free [AFP]

A police commando has been charged by a Pakistani court with terrorism and murder for the killing of the liberal politician Salman Taseer.

Monday's session in an anti-terrorism court in a Rawalpindi city jail was held behind closed doors.

Mumtaz Qadri, 25, admitted to shooting dead Taseer, the governor of Punjab state, on January 4 while serving as his bodyguard.

Taseer had spoken out against stringent blasphemy laws which impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.

When the judge asked Qadri if he had intentionally killed Taseer, he said he did not consider his actions illegal, according to Shuja-ur-Rehman Raja, the defence lawyer.

The lawyer quoted his client as saying he dealt with "an apostate" as required under Quranic and Islamic laws.

Raja, prosecutors and legal experts said Qadri's statement was considered a guilty plea under Pakistani law, despite his efforts to justify the killing and deny that it was illegal.

Qadri's popularity could be gauged from the flowers and Valentine's Day cards delivered by students [AFP]

"Qadri's statement is a complete confession of an uncondonable and brutal murder," Iqbal Haider, a human rights campaigner and former law minister, said.

"All sane people will appreciate this indictment."

An evidence hearing has been set for February 26.

More than 500 lawyers have offered to defend Qadri for free.

Outside the court on Monday, dozens of Muslim activists carried banners saluting Qadri and demanded his immediate release.

A small group of college students gave police flowers and a Valentine's Day card they wanted delivered to the defendant.

"Happy Valentine!" read one of the banners.

The next hearing in the trial will be on February 26, when witnesses and evidence will be presented.

Taseer, a prominent member of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, campaigned for a reform of the laws after a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death last year for allegedly insulting Islam's prophet, Muhammad.

The killing, outside a cafe in Islamabad, was the most prominent political assassination since the 2007 killing of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto - and shocked the country's liberal elite, who interpreted it as a "death knell" for reform efforts.

Source:
Agencies
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