Pakistan on Monday hanged Mumtaz Qadri, who assassinated then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer for seeking reform to the country’s blasphemy law, according to officials and supporters.
“I can confirm that Qadri was hanged in Adiala jail early Monday morning,” said senior local police official Sajjid Gondal. A prison official confirmed the execution of the former police bodyguard who killed Taseer in 2011.
Around 50 Rangers and police in riot gear as well as ambulances and dozens of police vehicles were stationed outside Qadri’s home in Rawalpindi early Monday, an AFP reporter there said, blocking the street and refusing to allow people to enter. Armed Rangers could be seen stationed on the roof of the building housing Qadri’s residence and some roads in the neighborhood were closed.
Cries were heard from inside the house as around 20 people gathered, apparently family members, and mosques could be heard broadcasting news of the execution.
“We have beefed up security in Rawalpindi to maintain law and order and to deal with any untoward situation,” Gondal said. He said the hanging took place after a final meeting between Qadri and his family late Sunday, and that the body had been sent to his relatives.
Qadri shot Taseer 28 times in broad daylight in an upscale market in Islamabad. He later confessed to the killing, saying he objected to the politician’s calls to reform Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.
Taseer had also been vocal in his support of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who has been on death row since 2010 after being found guilty of committing blasphemy.
Blasphemy remains hugely sensitive in Pakistan, an Islamic republic of some 200 million, and Qadri had been hailed as a hero by conservatives eager to drown out any calls to soften the legislation. Critics, including European governments, say Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are largely misused, with hundreds of people languishing in jails under false charges.
Qadri’s lawyers drew on Islamic texts to argue that he was justified in killing Taseer, saying that by criticizing the law the politician was himself guilty of blasphemy—an argument rejected by the lead judge.
Qadri lost a petition for the Supreme Court to review his sentence in December last year. The decision came after the court warned in October that in Islam a false accusation can be as serious as the blasphemy itself, and that calls for blasphemy law reform “ought not to be mistaken as a call for doing away with that law.”
The court’s decision to uphold the sentence sparked rallies in which Islamist groups said that if Qadri were executed those responsible should also be put to death.