Taseer killer charged with murder, gets V-day gifts in jail | world | Hindustan Times
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Taseer killer charged with murder, gets V-day gifts in jail

world Updated: Feb 14, 2011 14:46 IST

A Pakistani court on Monday charged a police commando with the murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, whose assassination last month divided the country even as student brought Valentine's cards and flowers for him.

Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri pleaded not guilty to murdering Taseer in Islamabad on January 4, his legal team said.

At the time he confessed to the killing because he objected to Taseer's calls to reform the blasphemy law, which carries the death penalty.

One of Qadri's lawyers, Malik Mohammad Rafiq Khan, told AFP after an anti-terrorism court behind closed doors Monday: "The judge examined the record and said that apparently the accused committed murder and terrorism.

"The judge read out the charges to the accused. The accused pleaded not guilty," Khan said.

He gained wide support, especially from Islamists, after the shooting of Taseer on Jan 4.

Supporters of Qadri gathered outside the high-security prison in Rawalpindi where he was to appear before an anti-terrorism court later on Monday.

The Islamist confessed to shooting dead Taseer, whom he was assigned to protect.

The murder has divided Pakistan.

The powerful conservative religious right praised the gunman for silencing a dangerous reformer.

An appalled liberal elite interpreted the killing as a death knell for reform efforts.

Outside Adiyala prison, about 140 Islamists rallied in support of Qadri, joined by 10 students from a government college who turned up with posters, Valentine's cards and flowers.

"Celebrating Valentine's Day with Mumtaz Qadri," read one placard.

They handed over flowers and cards to jail officials who said they would give them to Qadri, as students from religious schools shouted "Free Qadri!".

Valentine's Day is increasingly celebrated in Pakistan, a Muslim country where many conservatives disapprove of the occasion as a Western import.

"We admit it is not our tradition and it is wrong to celebrate Valentine's Day, but it is now widely celebrated and the media is full with Valentine's Day activities," student Hussain Ahmed, 22, told AFP at the jail.

"We love Qadri because he loves the holy Prophet and that is why we have brought flowers and Valentine's Day cards for him," Ahmed said.

Qari Hanif Qureshi, a firebrand speaker and apparent inspiration for Qadri, also said Valentine's Day was not Muslim.

"It is wrong to celebrate it, but since these students have come to express their love and support for Qadri, we cannot turn them away," Qureshi told AFP.