Rioting and demonstrations broke out on the streets of Pakistan after an Islamic terrorist was hanged Monday morning for having assassinated the governor of the province for his call to relax the state’s severe anti-blasphemy laws.
Former police officer Mumtaz Qadri was found guilty of having murdered Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab province, in cold blood in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad in 2011. At the time, Qadri was serving as bodyguard for the governor and took advantage of his post to repeatedly machine-gun his employer in the back.
Qadri is being hailed as an “Islamic hero” by the throngs of protesters, who praised the assassin for having returned honor to Islam. A mosque in Islamabad that was named after him reportedly doubled in attendance as a result.
Despite Muslims’ opposition to Valentine’s Day as a Western holiday, Mumtaz Qadri made history in 2011 when he received the largest number of Valentines cards of any Pakistani during a court hearing.
On the news of Qadri’s hanging, the Muslim legal fraternity of Pakistan declared a one-day strike, which was followed by a call for nation-wide protests by the leader of Sunni Tehreek, a Muslim political wing, which has proclaimed Qadri a “martyr.”
In recent days, Islamist radicals threatened retaliation if Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain were to reject the appeal for clemency. Because of the threats, the Hussain family took refuge in the presidential palace, under the protection of security guards.
Rioters have broken shop windows and assaulted and torched buses attempting to complete their routes. In many districts, shops and schools have been closed while security forces struggle to restore peace.
Up to the point of his death, Qadri never repented of killing Taseer, saying it was just retribution for the governor’s vocal opposition to Pakistan’s “holy” blasphemy laws. The governor had called for a mitigation of the extreme laws that carry a death sentence for insulting Islam as well as advocating for the liberation of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, whom Qadri referred to as a kaffir (infidel) and blasphemer.
Religious liberty advocates are commending the President Hussain for standing up to Islamic radicals and making the unpopular decision of seeing the execution through.
Father Morris Jalal, the founder of a Catholic television station in Lahore, said that “justice has been done despite the pressure of the extremists. We appreciate the government’s decision, which showed a lot of courage. The president is under threat.”
Jalal called the decision “a very brave choice, especially for minorities. This means that in the future false accusations of blasphemy will be discouraged,” he said. “It is a clear message to the terrorists to repent. No one is above the law and the government is determined to root out the problems in the country.”
Another priest, Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the National Justice and Peace Commission of the Pakistani Bishops’ Conference, also praised the Pakistani courts “which did not submit to the pressure of religious groups.”
“Finally there is the political will to deal with terrorism. We may have a violent reaction, but the authorities must not be afraid,” Mani said.
The priest added that the case of Asia Bibi still must be dealt with.
“Taseer had the courage to take a stand for a poor woman from a minority community,” he said. “Asia Bibi is still languishing in prison. We demand her immediate release.”
Qadri was hanged at around 9:30 am local time at the Adyala Jail in the city of Rawalpindi, outside Islamabad.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.