Pakistani faces death over governor's killing

Ex-bodyguard sentenced to death for murder of Punjab state lawmaker, who had criticised Pakistan's blasphemy law.

    Supporters of Qadri protested after the court announced his death sentences [AFP]

    A Pakistani court has sentenced a police officer to death for killing a liberal governor who had urged reform of the country's blasphemy law.

    The court in Rawalpindi on Saturday handed down two death sentences for murder and terrorism to Mumtaz Qadri, who had served as Punjab governor Salman Taseer's body guard.

    Raja Shuja-ur-Rehman, one of Qadri's lawyers, said he would lodge an appeal in a high court against the verdict.

    "We are not satisfied with this ruling, and we will file an appeal against it," he said.

    Qadri had told the court that Taseer deserved to die because of his criticism of Pakistani laws that mandate the death sentence for insulting Islam.

    Outside the jail where the hearing was held - for security reasons - several hundred supporters of Qadri blocked the road and chanted slogans denouncing the sentence.

    "By punishing one Mumtaz Qadri, you will produce a thousand Mumtaz Qadris!" a man shouted through a megaphone.

    In Rawalpindi's Liaquat Bagh area, where former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007, about 1,000 Qadri supporters blocked a main road with burning tyres.
    They shouted slogans against the government and the judge who sentenced Qadri, and forced shops to close.

    Later on Saturday, about 1,000 people also protested against the sentence in the southern city of Karachi.

    The trial, which began a month after the killing in January, had stirred controversy in Pakistan, where roughly 95 per cent of the population is Muslim. Thousands of people have demonstrated in Qadri's defence.

    'Word of God'

    Al Jazeera's Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Islamabad, said the case intensified a dispute between moderates and religious extremists in Pakistan.

    "The law itself is very vague, and that's the biggest issue many people have with it, particularly the liberals and the progressives," our correspondent said.

    "On the other side of that argument are those who can't even imagine anybody suggesting repealing or even altering the law about blasphemy in any way, shape or form ... They say this is the word of God, effectively."

    Tyab added: "There is some suggestion that the judge presiding over this case will perhaps meet the same end as Salman Taseer, as some threats have already emerged".

    Taseer had defended a Christian woman sentenced to death in a blasphemy case, which arose out of a local
    dispute in November. Taseer said the law was being misused and should be reformed.

    Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic Pakistani government minister who had vowed to defy death threats over his opposition to the law, was shot dead in March.

    After the Bhatti assassination, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said Pakistan was "poisoned by extremism".

    Rights groups say the law is discriminatory against the country's tiny minority groups, and that its vague terminology has led to misuse.

    A 13-year-old Christian girl was recently accused of blasphemy after she misspelled a religious word in a school test. She was expelled from school in the town of Havelian in northwestern Pakistan.

    The Pakistani government has said it has no plans to reform the law.

    Members of Taseer's family have continued to speak out against religious extremism, and in August, Taseer's adult son was abducted from his car in the eastern city of Lahore. His fate remains unknown.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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