KARACHI: Pakistani supporters of former police bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri carry placards with his portrait as they shout slogans during a protest yesterday. — AFP
KARACHI: Pakistani supporters of former police bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri carry placards with his portrait as they shout slogans during a protest yesterday. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: A former police bodyguard on death row in Pakistan for assassinating a politician inched closer to execution yesterday as the Supreme Court rejected his petition for a sentence review. Mumtaz Qadri was feted as a hero by Islamist supporters after he shot the liberal governor of Punjab province, Salmaan Taseer, 28 times in broad daylight in an upscale Islamabad market in 2011.

He later admitted the killing, saying he objected to the politician’s calls to reform Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. Rights groups say these are frequently used to pursue vendettas, particularly against religious minorities. Taseer had also been vocal in his support of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who has been on death row since 2010 after being found guilty of insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

“The review petition has been dismissed” by a three-judge panel headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Qadri’s lawyer Khwaja Muhammad Sharif told AFP. Sharif said his client’s last option was to file a mercy petition to the Pakistani president. In previous hearings Qadri’s lawyers drew on Islamic texts to argue that he was justified in killing Taseer, saying that by criticizing the law the politician was himself guilty of blasphemy-an argument rejected by the lead judge.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan, an Islamic republic of some 200 million, and Qadri has been hailed as a hero by many conservatives eager to drown out any calls to soften the legislation. Critics including European governments say Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are largely misused, with hundreds of people languishing in jails under false charges. – AFP