Malik Mumtaz Qadri — Photo by Reuters

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistan police commando, who killed one of the country's top liberal politicians for urging reform of controversial blasphemy laws, on Thursday filed an appeal against his death sentence.

The Pakistani anti-terror court on Saturday found Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, one of Punjab governor Salman Taseer's bodyguards, guilty of murder and sentenced him to death.

Qadri confessed to shooting Taseer dead outside an upmarket coffee shop close to his residence in the leafy capital Islamabad on January 4.

He said he objected to the politician's calls to amend the blasphemy law, which mandates the death penalty for those convicted of defaming the Prophet Mohammed.

“Today we have filed an appeal in Islamabad high court against the verdict and have challenged Qadri's death sentence,” Shuja-ur-Rehman, one of Qadri's lawyers, told AFP by telephone.

“The anti-terrorism court was not the competent authority to sentence him, this decision is illegal and baseless.” Rehman said a preliminary hearing for his appeal had been fixed for Tuesday.

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.

Taseer had supported a Christian mother of five sentenced to death in November 2010 for alleged blasphemy in the central province of Punjab.

Two months after Taseer's killing, a Catholic government minister for minority affairs who had vowed to defy death threats over his opposition to the blasphemy laws was also shot dead in Islamabad.

While no-one has ever been sent to the gallows under Pakistan's blasphemy law, activists say it is used to attack others out of personal enmity or because of business disputes.

Since Taseer's assassination, right-wing religious clerics have heaped praise on his killer. The government has said it has no plan to reform the law.

On Saturday, immediately after the judgment, more than 500 people rallied outside the prison in support of Qadri, and later blocked off a main road in the city by setting tires alight.

Some of the stick-wielding protesters forced shops to close but later all dispersed peacefully.



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