A Pakistani court on Tuesday stayed the implementation of death sentence given to the self-confessed assassin of Governor Salmaan Taseer till it decided his appeal against the verdict.
A bench of the Islamabad high court headed by Chief Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman issued the order after it began hearing the appeal filed by Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the police guard who gunned down Taseer outside a restaurant in Islamabad on January 4.
Qadri, who publicly confessed to killing Taseer for criticising the country's controversial blasphemy law, was represented in the high court by Khwaja Muhammad Sharif, a retired chief justice of the Lahore high court.
Sharif contended that the anti-terrorism court which conducted Qadri's trial did not have the power to give him the death sentence. The high court also sought a response from the federal government to Qadri's appeal.
Several senior retired judges and dozens of members of bar associations of various cities were present in the court during Tuesday's hearing. Several of them offered to represent Qadri, witnesses said.
Authorities deployed a large contingent of security personnel at the court complex as hundreds of Qadri's supporters, including members of hardline religious groups, gathered there on Tuesday morning.
The supporters shouted slogans and demanded Qadri's acquittal and release.
Religious and extremist groups like the Jamaat-ud-Dawah had organised protests against the death sentence given to Qadri in cities across Pakistan on Friday.
A Rawalpindi-based anti terrorism court had given Qadri two death sentences on two counts of murder and terrorism on October 1.
Judge Pervez Ali Shah, who passed the death sentence for Qadri, went into hiding after his courtroom was ransacked by lawyers. Several groups have issued threats against him.
Following demands from lawyers and religious groups, Shah was transferred from Rawalpindi to Lahore on Friday. Qadri and his lawyers have invoked Islamic laws and tenets in a bid to justify his action, saying that he had killed Taseer for criticising the blasphemy law and for backing Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed.