Thousands attend funeral of Pakistani policeman hanged in blasphemy case
Published 01/03/2016 | 13:56
Tens of thousands of Pakistanis gathered for the funeral of a police officer executed for murdering a secular governor in 2011 over accusations of blasphemy.
As a precaution against violence, authorities closed all schools and stepped up security in Islamabad and the adjacent city of Rawalpindi, where the funeral of Mumtaz Qadri was held.
Roads around key government buildings and diplomatic compounds were also closed off.
Qadri's supporters threw rose petals at the ambulance carrying his coffin through Rawalpindi.
Authorities put a gag order on local media covering the funeral, warning outlets in a letter they would face closure if their reporting "glorifies extremism". Some supporters attacked a media crew, breaking at least one video camera.
Meanwhile, footage posted on social media showed Qadri's supporters jeering at Pakistani Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid at Karachi's airport. One threw a shoe at the minister but he ducked.
Qadri's hanging on Monday triggered street protests in several Pakistani cities as some religious and political leaders, and militant groups have publicly defended him.
He was executed for killing secular governor Salman Taseer who had called for reforms of the country's harsh blasphemy laws.
Shortly after the attack, Qadri said he killed Governor Taseer because he had allegedly committed blasphemy by campaigning to change the laws and also in support of a jailed Christian woman accused of desecrating Islam's holy book, the Koran.
Tens of thousands of Qadri's supporters walked for miles to reach the funeral venue as police had blocked most of the roads for traffic.
Many chanted in support of Qadri while others carried posters with photographs of the former officer. One of those in the crowds, Ahmad Nadeem, wore a T-shirt with the painted logo: "I'm Mumtaz Qadri."
"I wouldn't hesitate to do the same," he said.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws allow for anyone convicted of insulting Islam to be sentenced to death, though people often take the law into their own hands.
The January 2011 assassination horrified Pakistan's relatively small liberal elite.
However, many Pakistanis, including some in the religious establishment and in legal circles, praised Qadri - a sign of the spread of Islamic fundamentalist thought in the South Asian nation.
Pakistan lifted a moratorium on the death penalty after a Taliban school attack in December 2014 and has executed more than 300 convicts since then.
The government has also taken measures against extremism, introducing a ban on hate speech, abuse of mosques, as well as media blackout on militant groups.
Islamabad has also promised to improve security for minority groups and upgrade legislations on individual rights and women's rights.