A Pakistani anti-terrorism court on Saturday handed down death sentence to the police guard who assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer for calling for changes in the country's controversial blasphemy law.
Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the policeman who gunned down Taseer outside a restaurant in the heart of Islamabad on January 4, was awarded two death sentences on two counts of murder and terrorism by Judge Parvez Ali Shah during in-camera proceedings at Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, state-run PTV reported.
Qadri had confessed to killing Taseer shortly after the crime. He subsequently confessed to the crime on two more occasions -- when a magistrate recorded his confessional statement and when he was given a questionnaire by the anti-terrorism court judge.
Special security arrangements were put in place at Adiala Jail before Saturday's proceedings.
Roads leading to the prison were closed to the public and private vehicles, and a large police contingent was deployed in the area. A high alert was sounded in the jail to thwart any untoward incidents, officials said.
Dozens of Qadri's supporters, carrying banners and posters with the policeman's photograph, gathered outside the jail and shouted slogans.
It could not immediately be ascertained whether Qadri planned to appeal the death sentence.
Despite confessing to the crime, Qadri had contended that he killed Taseer as he was a 'murtad' or apostate and had allegedly committed blasphemy by seeking changes in the blasphemy law.
During the trial, witnesses testified that Qadri had specifically asked his superiors to include him in Taseer's security detail on the day of the assassination.
Qadri's trial was held up for several weeks as no prosecutor was willing to take on the case. During initial court appearances, Qadri was championed by lawyers and madrassa students, who haled him as a "hero" and showered rose petals on him.
Taseer, one of the most liberal leaders of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, had angered Islamic hardliners when he called for changes in the blasphemy law and championed the cause of a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
Nearly two months after Taseer's killing, Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, another vocal critic of the blasphemy law, was gunned down by the Taliban near his residence in Islamabad.