A Pakistani court on Saturday found a police commando guilty of murder and sentenced him to death for killing the liberal governor of Pakistan’s largest province who had urged reform of a blasphemy law, a defense lawyer said.
Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, one of Punjab governor Salman Taseer’s bodyguards, was charged with terrorism and murdering the man he was supposed to be protecting on an Islamabad street on January 4 this year.
The court handed down two death sentences for murder and terrorism to Qadri, who has seven days to file an appeal, state television reported.
Qadri believed he was enforcing divine law by murdering a blasphemer when he killed Taseer.
He confessed to killing Taseer, saying he objected to the politician’s calls to amend the blasphemy law, which mandates the death penalty for those convicted of defaming the Prophet Mohammed.
“The court has awarded my client with death. The court announced the death sentence for him,” Shuja-ur-Rehman, one of Qadri’s lawyers, told AFP by telephone.
Judge Pervez Ali Shah announced the verdict at an anti-terrorism court behind closed doors in the high-security Adiyala prison in Rawalpindi, the lawyer said.
Dozens of people rallied outside the prison where the verdict was announced, chanting slogans in support of Qadri, an AFP photographer said.
“The judge has also ordered him to pay a fine of 200,000 rupees ($2,300) each,” the lawyer said.
Shuja-ur-Rehman said soon he will lodge an appeal in a high court against the verdict.
The killing of the reformist Taseer was the most high-profile political assassination in Pakistan since former prime minister Benazir Bhutto died in a gun and suicide attack in December 2007.
Taseer had supported a Christian mother of five sentenced to death in November 2010 for alleged blasphemy in the central province of Punjab.
A Catholic Pakistani government minister who had vowed to defy death threats over his opposition to Islamic blasphemy laws was shot dead in March, 2011.
The Catholic politician, who had complained of death threats, was gunned down as he left his mother’s home in a residential area of Islamabad.
While no-one has ever been sent to the gallows under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, activists say it is used to attack others out of personal enmity or business disputes.
Since Taseer’s assassination, right-wing religious clerics have heaped praise on his killer and stoked controversy over reform of the law. The government has said it has no plan to reform the law.