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Rally as court hears Taseer murder case in Adiyala Jail

February 26, 2011

At a previous hearing Malik Mumtaz Qadri was charged with terrorism and the January 4 murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer. – File Photo by Reuters

RAWALPINDI: Supporters of a Pakistani police commando charged with murdering high-profile liberal governor of Punjab held a rally Saturday as the court resumed taking statements in the case.

At a previous hearing Malik Mumtaz Qadri was charged with terrorism and the January 4 murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer.

The killing of the reformist Taseer was the most high-profile political assassination in Pakistan since former prime minister Benazir Bhutto died in a gun and suicide attack in December 2007.

More than 250 demonstrators rallied outside the Adiyala prison, where the hearing took place, in the garrison town of Rawalpindi. They shouted “Long live Qadri, Release Qadri!”, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

The demonstrators carried the alleged killer's portrait and placards reading “We salute Qadri's courage”.

They also approached the car of one of the judges and shouted “Friends of a blasphemer are traitors.” The court recorded statements from three witnesses -- two policemen and a doctor who performed Taseer's post-mortem examination -- before adjourning until March 5, Qadri's lawyer Shujaur Rehman told AFP.

Qadri has confessed to killing Taseer and said he objected to the politician's calls to reform the blasphemy law, which mandates the death sentence for those convicted of defaming the Prophet Mohammed.

Rights groups say the law is exploited in cases of personal enmity.

The country's growing conservative religious right publicly praised Qadri for silencing a dangerous reformer. But the killing appalled the tiny liberal elite, who interpreted it as a death knell for reform efforts.

Pakistan has yet to execute anyone for blasphemy. Most of those convicted have their sentences overturned or commuted on appeal through the courts. – AFP