People listen to their leaders holding a poster of Mumtaz Qadri with writing: "we salute your courage," during a rally to protest against any attempt to modify the Blasphemy law in Rawalpindi.—AP

WASHINGTON, Jan 18: Four US Congressmen have asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to refuse visas to those who praised the assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and showed support for his assassin Mumtaz Qadri.

In a letter sent to Secretary Clinton, Congressmen Gary Ackerman, Steve Israel, Peter King and Michael McCaul said: “Some of the most prominent clerics, journalists and lawyers who have praised Mr Taseer's death and have demonstrated support of his murderer, are people who frequently travel to the US and hold American visas.

“We urge you to identify those Pakistani citizens that have shown demonstrable support of the assassination of Governor Taseer.

“We further request that visas not be issued to such people and that applications for new visas from those who have endorsed this heinous crime be denied,” the letter said.

After Governor Taseer's assassination, thousands of supporters of extremist groups, including Jamaat-ud-Dawah, held rallies in cities to express support for Qadri.

JUI chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman also addressed a rally in Karachi and pledged to defend Qadri in court. He is a frequent traveller to the United States.

The US media noted that lawyers and members of radical groups showered rose petals on Qadri when he was produced in courts in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

Dozens of lawyers offered to defend him free of charge. The lawmakers said in the letter that their request for denial of visas to supporters of Qadri was “not just a moral issue but also an issue of national security”.

They said it was “shocking” that Mr Taseer, a “strong advocate for religious tolerance, pluralism and democracy,” was “cut down by an assassin's bullets who opposed changes to statutes against religious minorities.”

“This unspeakable tragedy has been compounded by the public reaction of significant elements of Pakistan's clerical, journalistic and law community who have praised the murderer and threatened the lives of other Pakistani officials who refuse to comply with the terrorisation of Christians, Ahmedis and women,” the letter said.

“Further problems are plaguing the democracy in Pakistan,” the lawmakers noted, pointing out that PPP MNA Sherry Rehman had also received threats for introducing a bill in the National Assembly, proposing amendments to the controversial blasphemy law.

“Further threats and violence are not the answer,” the letter added.