Death sentence upheld for Pakistan 'blasphemy' killing

2015-03-09 22:01
A noose hangs at the site of execution in Pul-e-Charkhi prison, on the outskirts of Kabul. (Wakil Kohsar, AFP)

A noose hangs at the site of execution in Pul-e-Charkhi prison, on the outskirts of Kabul. (Wakil Kohsar, AFP)

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Islamabad - A Pakistani court on Monday upheld the death sentence handed to the killer of a politician who sought blasphemy law reform, but struck out a terrorism conviction, making it unlikely he will be executed soon.

The Islamabad High Court dismissed an appeal against the death sentence by Mumtaz Qadri, a former police bodyguard who shot dead Punjab governor Salman Taseer in Islamabad in 2011.

Qadri admitted shooting Taseer, saying he objected to the politician's calls to reform Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws which can carry the death penalty.

Judges Noor-ul-Haq Qureshi and Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui dismissed the appeal over the murder charge, an AFP reporter at court said.

But they also set aside Qadri's conviction on terrorism charges, which means it is highly unlikely he will be sent to the gallows any time soon.

Pakistan lifted a moratorium on executions in December after Taliban gunmen massacred more than 150 people at a school - but only in terror-related cases.

Authorities have hanged 24 prisoners since December, all convicted of terror crimes, but the moratorium remains in force for those sentenced to death on normal criminal charges.

Qadri's lawyer Mian Nazeer said they had not yet decided about appealing to the Supreme Court, but were pleased with the ruling on the terrorism charges.

"We have got relief by this decision. Charges against Qadri under provision seven of anti-terrorism act have been dropped," Nazeer said.

Sensitive issue

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Muslim Pakistan. Qadri has been hailed as a hero by many conservatives eager to drown out any calls to soften the legislation.

At his original trial, Qadri was showered with rose petals by some lawyers. His appeal team included two judges, including the former chief justice of Lahore High Court.

Around 150 activists from the conservative religious group Sunni Tehreek rallied outside the court on Monday to support Qadri, carrying flags and portraits of him.

Nazeer insisted his client was a hero, not a terrorist.

"Qadri did not commit terrorism, he sacrificed his life to uphold honour of the prophet," he said.

Even if Pakistan were to restart executions in non-terror cases, executing someone convicted of murdering a "blasphemer" would risk a backlash from hardline religious groups and even more moderate public opinion.

Read more on:    pakistan  |  religion

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