Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed assassin of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, was hanged at Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail on Monday morning, sparking scattered protests in parts of Pakistan.
Qadri, a former police commando, assassinated Taseer outside a popular restaurant in Islamabad on January 4, 2011 for supporting a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy after a personal dispute.
Taseer, a senior leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, had said the controversial blasphemy law was being misused and should be reformed.
“Qadri was hanged at around 4.30 am,” senior police officer Rizwan Omar Gondal said.
As news of the hanging spread, supporters of hardline religious groups came out on the streets to protest. Traffic was briefly blocked on some roads of Islamabad and Karachi before police intervened.
Aijaz Qadri of the Sunni Tehreek, a sectarian organisation which had launched a campaign to free Qadri, said his party was very angry with the death.
“We will express our sorrow and anger in the coming days,” he told the media, adding he had asked shops and schools to be closed for the day as a mark of “respect” for Qadri.
At most places, the call for a shutdown went unheeded.
Late in 2011, an anti-terrorism court handed a double death sentence to Qadri for murder and terrorism. The sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court late last year.
A review petition was also turned down by the top court on December 14 last year, leaving Qadri with the last option of filing a clemency appeal to the President. That plea was turned down last week.
More than 100 people are charged with blasphemy each year in predominantly Muslim Pakistan, many of them Christians and other minorities.
Conviction of blasphemy carries a death sentence, although no one has yet been executed for the charge.
Controversy over the law has exposed the growing gap between religious conservatives and liberals in Pakistan, with hardline religious leaders considering Taseer a blasphemer himself for even criticising the law.
Some lawyers showered Qadri with rose petals when he first appeared in court days after the killing. The judge who first convicted him was forced to flee the country after death threats.
(With inputs from agencies)