[JURIST] A Pakistani court on Monday indicted police guard Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, accused of assassinating liberal politician and governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province Salman Taseer for opposing the nation’s blasphemy law [text; JURIST news archive]. Qadri reportedly told the court that he did not murder anyone intentionally [AFP report] but had taught a lesson to an apostate. The next hearing is scheduled for February 26, and witnesses and evidence will be presented. Taseer’s assassination has increased tensions in Pakistan, as the nation’s religious right has publicly praised Qadri for his actions, bringing the liberal elite’s reform efforts to a halt. Pakistan has never executed anyone under its blasphemy law, and most sentences are overturned or commuted by appellate courts. This is the most high-profile assassination in Pakistan since the 2007 assassination of former prime minister and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) [official website] leader Benazir Bhutto [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive].
Taseer was shot and killed [JURIST report] on January 4, while getting into his car at Islamabad’s Kohsar Market by one of his own security guards, apparently because of his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the guard immediately surrendered to police and confessed to shooting Taseer because he had spoken against the blasphemy law. Controversy surrounding Pakistan’s blasphemy law has recently been reignited over the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammad [JURIST news archive] during an argument with other women in her village last year. Tasseer had spoken in Bibi’s defense. In December, the Lahore High Court (LHC) [official website] ordered [JURIST report] a stay against any amendments to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws pending further proceedings. The blasphemy laws were introduced in 1986 as a way of protecting Muslim beliefs from insults. In response to the repeated calls for repeal, Pakistani Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti [official profile] has said the laws may be amended to prevent misuse, but they will not be repealed. Advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch [JURIST report], as well as LHC advocate Saroop Ijaz [JURIST op-ed] have called for the laws to be repealed.