A Pakistani court today upheld the death sentence of a former police bodyguard-turned-murderer of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who had called for reforms in the country's controversial blasphemy laws.
The Islamabad High Court rejected the appeal by Mumtaz Qadri for overturning his death sentence, but granted him some respite and declared the inclusion of clauses of Anti-Terrorism Act as "null and void", making it unlikely that he will be executed soon.
Qadri, the former police bodyguard of Taseer, 66, has admitted shooting Taseer as he objected to the governor's calls for reforms in the blasphemy law and his special pleafor leniency to Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman convicted under blasphemy law who received death sentence by hanging in 2010.
An anti-terrorism court handed down double death sentences for murder and terrorism to Qadri in 2011. Qadri filed appeal against the sentence in the Islamabad High Court which completed hearing last month but had reserved the judgement. It is believed that Qadri may not be executed now as thegovernment has lifted moratorium on death sentences only for those accused convicted under terrorism charges.
Pakistan lifted moratorium on executions in December last year after Taliban militants massacred more than 150 people,mostly students, at a army-run school in Peshawar. Qadri's lawyers plan to challenge court's decision to uphold his death penalty in the Supreme Court, but they welcomed the ruling for declaring terrorism charges null andvoid.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan and Qadri has been hailed as a hero by many conservatives. At his original trial, Qadri was showered with rose petalsby some lawyers. The judge who convicted Qadri was forced to flee the country after repeated death threats.