Pakistan braces for violence after execution

01pakistan-web2-articleLargeThe authorities in Pakistan were bracing for the possibility of violence and escalating protests on Monday after the execution of the man who killed Salmaan Taseer, a governor who had campaigned for changes in the country’s blasphemy laws.

Taseer’s assassin, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, was hanged at 4:30 a.m. on Monday at the Adiala Jail, a high-security prison in Rawalpindi, adjacent to Islamabad, the capital. Security forces were put on alert in major cities across the country.

Taseer was a crusading secular politician and governor of Punjab Province at the time of his assassination, campaigning for changes in the blasphemy laws, which he, like other critics, said had been used to persecute religious minorities. For a large section of Pakistani society, the mere suggestion of changing the laws amounts to a capital crime.

Qadri was an elite police guard in Mr. Taseer’s security detail when he gunned down the governor in January 2011, shooting him 27 times in the back. He confessed to the authorities immediately and proudly, suggesting that he had killed Mr. Taseer specifically because of the governor’s stance on blasphemy. Mr. Qadri was sentenced to death that year and filed an appeal.

Still, he remained a hero to his supporters and was showered with rose petals and garlands during some of his court appearances. While in prison, Mr. Qadri was reported to have lived comfortably, and visits to his cell became a kind of religious pilgrimage for some. A new mosque in Islamabad was dedicated to him.

In recent years, he maintained a kind of privileged status within the prison population, and was said to have managed in 2014 to persuade a security guard to shoot another prisoner who was accused of blasphemy. The man was wounded but survived.

In October 2015, the Supreme Court upheld his death sentence, and last week, a request for mercy he had made to President Mamnoon Hussain was rejected.

After Qadri was hanged, supporters began gathering to view his body at his home in Rawalpindi. By early afternoon, the expressway connecting Islamabad and Rawalpindi was blocked by protests.

In the eastern city of Lahore, large police contingents were deployed to thwart demonstrations. Some markets had closed in the southwestern city of Karachi, where religious groups have a sizable presence, and the police had been sent to others. Protests were also reported in smaller cities.

Media coverage of the demonstrations, however, was muted. The government, through a regulatory body, pressured local television news networks not to broadcast footage of protests. And the evening talks shows, which ordinarily thrive on political controversy, refrained from focused discussion of Mr. Qadri’s execution. (Courtesy New York Times)

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