Pakistan hangs killer of Governor who challenged blasphemy law

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Mumtaz-QadriPakistan has executed the murderer of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who had justified the 2011 assassination upon Taseer’s desire for reforms in the blasphemy law, and for his support of Asia Noreen, a Christian woman condemned to death for blasphemy.

Mumtaz Qadri was hanged early Monday,  29 Feb.,  after his appeal to the President for mercy had been dismissed.

Pakistan’s Christians have been on tenterhooks, waiting to see if the President would let Qadri off his death penalty, as Muslim religious and political parties threatened a backlash if Qadri was executed. Sporadic riots and protests broke out 29 Feb.; A highway was closed for a time, cars and buses set on fire and effigies of the Prime Minister burned.

In January after the appeal on behalf of Qadri went to the President Mamnoon Hussain, Hussain’s family was confined to the Presidency, and Hussain’s security was increased. Three days before Qadri’s execution, two drivers from the President’s convoy were arrested and moved to an undisclosed location for interrogation.

Supreme Court lawyer Saif-ul-Malook, the prosecutor in Qadri’s trial, and who currently represents Asia Bibi’s appeal to the Supreme Court, told World Watch Monitor that Qadri’s execution shows Pakistan is committed to fight terrorism.

“It was very difficult to imagine if Pakistan would be able to follow the due course of justice, but the country has shown its will,” he said. “The execution has strengthened the fight against extremism.”

Taseer’s son, Shaan Taseer, posted on Facebook: “A principle has been upheld. I commend the judiciary, the President and the police for staying the course and doing their duty. And I thank them for honouring his memory. Long live Pakistan”.

Another son, Shahbaz Taseer, was abducted in Lahore in August 2011; his whereabouts are still unclear.

In May 2011, just months after Taseer was gunned down, Pakistan’s Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the cabinet’s only Christian, was shot dead by gunmen who ambushed his car.

Mumtaz Qadri had been hailed across the country as a hero after he killed Salman Taseer in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, on 4 Jan., 2011. Twenty-six-year old Qadri was a member of the governor’s security detail when he shot him 27 times – without being stopped by other police officers present. Then he threw down his AK-47 sub-machine gun and reportedly pleaded to be arrested so that he could explain his intentions – that, essentially, his religion compelled him to kill Taseer, a ‘blasphemer’.

Noreen, widely known as Asia Bibi, had been arrested in the summer of 2009 for allegedly speaking ill against the Prophet of Islam, and sentenced to death in November 2010. After Pope Benedict XVI pleaded for her release, Taseer, a business tycoon and serving governor of the largest province in Pakistan, went to meet her in prison and had her sign an appeal for mercy to the President.

The religious right in Pakistan carried out massive protests, demanding that Noreen should not be pardoned for any reason. Taseer had also made headlines for demanding an amendment to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Only four days before his murder, Taseer tweeted:

“I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing”

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