Supporters of Mumtaz Qadri chant slogans during a rally outside the Islamabad High Court. The Islamabad High Court stayed the implementation of Qadri's death sentence till a decision on his appeal against the verdict.—AP (File Photo)

LAHORE: The district and sessions judge, who had handed down two death sentences to Mumtaz Qadri for killing Punjab governor Salman Taseer, has left for Saudi Arabia along with his family after receiving death threats from extremists.

“The death threats have forced Judge Pervez Ali Shah to leave the country along with his family for Saudi Arabia,” Advocate Saiful Malook, the special prosecutor in the Qadri case, told Dawn on Monday.

He said sensing the gravity of the situation the government had arranged the lodging of Mr Shah and members of his family abroad. “Although security was provided to the judge and his family members, the government on the reports of law-enforcement agencies opted for sending him abroad,” he said.

There were also unconfirmed reports that extremist elements in religious parties had fixed the head money for the judge. “There were such reports but there was a potential threat to the life of Mr Shah and his family members,” he said.

Mr Malook said he also had been receiving threats to his life and urged the government to arrange adequate security. “The government has deployed only two policemen for my security which is not adequate,” he said.

Judge Pervez Ali Shah had said in his verdict: “No-one can be given the licence to kill anyone in any condition, therefore, the killer cannot be pardoned as he has committed a heinous crime.”

Assassin Qadri, a constable in the Punjab Police Elite Force, tried to justify the murder by stating that he had killed Mr Taseer for supporting Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who the slain governor had projected as having been wrongly convicted of blasphemy. Qadri, who was on duty to guard Taseer, gunned him down outside a restaurant in Islamabad on Jan 4 this year.

The Islamabad High Court stayed the implementation of death sentence till a decision on his appeal against the verdict.

Advocate Malook said the judge’s decision was “absolutely according to law” but the reaction of lawyers of the Rawalpindi Bar to the verdict was unfortunate.

Judge Shah had been on long leave since sentencing Qadri to death. Earlier, the chief justice had placed services of Mr Shah at the disposal of the Punjab government and transferred him from the anti terrorism court-II, Rawalpindi, to the Child Protection Court, Lahore, but later repatriated him.

About three dozen religious parties, including Sunni Tehrik and Jamatud Dawa, have been pressing the government to remove Mr Shah from his post. The clerics termed the decision “un-Islamic” and demanded action against the judge.

Police are also investigating the kidnapping of Shahbaz Taseer, son of Salman Taseer, on the lines that Qadri’s sympathisers might be involved in it.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said recently that Shahbaz Taseer was alive and his kidnappers were holding him near the border with Afghanistan. Shahbaz Taseer was kidnapped from Lahore’s Gulberg area in the last week of August.

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