RAWALPINDI (Pakistan) • Pakistan yesterday hanged the man who killed a governor for seeking reform of the blasphemy law, angering Islamist supporters who had feted Mumtaz Qadri as a hero and threatened violence if he was executed.
Security was stepped up at flashpoints across the country, including the garrison city of Rawalpindi, where hundreds of supporters began gathering at Qadri's family home. Riot police were deployed in the capital, Islamabad, as officials braced themselves for protests from hardliners.
Qadri, a former police bodyguard, shot liberal Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer 28 times in Islamabad in 2011. After his arrest, Qadri told police he killed Mr Taseer because the governor had championed the cause of a Christian woman sentenced to death in a blasphemy case that arose out of a personal dispute.
Mr Taseer had said the law was being misused and should be reformed. Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in the Islamic republic of some 200 million, and Qadri was hailed as a hero by many conservatives eager to drown out calls to soften the legislation.
Critics, including European governments, say the legislation - which carries the death penalty - is largely misused, with hundreds languishing in jails under false charges.
"Qadri was hanged in Adiala jail early on Monday morning" in Rawalpindi, senior local police official Sajjid Gondal said.
His body was being displayed to supporters at his family's home in the city, where paramilitary Ranger forces and police in riot gear as well as ambulances and dozens of police vehicles were stationed.
Armed Rangers could also be seen on the roof of the building housing Qadri's residence, while the authorities blocked roads in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, bringing morning traffic to a standstill.
Cries were heard from inside the house, where hundreds of men and women had gathered, and mosques broadcast news of the execution.
"I have no regrets," Qadri's brother Malik Abid said, tears rolling down his cheeks, while women chanted nearby. He said the family had been called to the prison on Sunday evening by officials who said Qadri was unwell.
But when they arrived, Qadri greeted them with the news that the authorities had deceived them and that his execution was imminent.
"We started crying, but he hugged us and chanted 'God is great'," Mr Abid said.
"I am proud of the martyrdom of my son," Qadri's father Bashir Awan said, adding that he was ready to sacrifice all five of his other sons "for the honour of the Prophet".
In the port mega-city of Karachi, protesters blocked main intersections and some petrol stations were closed after Qadri supporters ordered them shut. Police said security had been tightened there and also in the eastern city of Lahore.
Lawyers in Islamabad's district courts said they were going on strike in protest. Qadri's lawyers drew on Islamic texts to argue that he was justified in killing Mr Taseer, saying that by criticising the law the politician was himself guilty of blasphemy - an argument rejected by the lead judge.
A Supreme Court decision to uphold the death sentence last December sparked rallies. The judge who first convicted Qadri was forced to flee the country after death threats.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS