The man who shot dead the governor of Punjab Province over his support for reform to blasphemy laws has been sentenced to death.
Mumtaz Qadri admitted killing Salman Taseer in January because of his support for changes to the controversial laws, which rights groups say are being misused to persecute Christians in the Muslim-majority country.
Qadri was Taseer’s personal bodyguard when he gunned down the minister near his home in Islamabad on January 4.
The murder came after the governor voiced support for reforms to the laws and suggested that the president pardon Asia Bibi, a Christian woman awaiting execution for alleged blasphemy.
Rather than condemning Taseer’s assassination, many people in Pakistan hailed Qadri a hero and defender of Islam.
Dozens of people gathered to chant their support for Qadri outside the high-security Adiyala prison, where the trial took place.
Although proceedings were closed to media, Qadri’s defense lawyer Shuja-ur-Rehman told the AFP news agency that the court had announced the death sentence for him.
Another defense lawyer, Tariq Muhammad Dhamial, told the BBC: “My client’s morale was very high. He was very happy with the decision and he accepts it – as it means he sacrificed his life for the prophet Muhammad.
“My client is at peace – he started reciting verses from the Koran after the verdict was read out.”
In addition to the death sentence, Qadri was fined 200,000 rupees ($2,300).
The country’s controversial blasphemy laws have hit headlines in recent months. Just two months after Taseer’s murder, Pakistan’s Minorities Minister and a Christian, Shahbaz Bhatti, was killed by gunmen in Islamabad.
Bhatti was a long time advocate of reform to the blasphemy laws and had often spoken of his determination to campaign for the equal rights of minorities, despite the risk to his life.
Soon after their deaths, MP Sherry Rehman withdrew from Parliament her Bill outlining amendments to the blasphemy laws, effectively closing the door on any changes for the time being.