An anti-terrorism court on Saturday awarded the death sentence to the assassin of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. The judgement drew a mixed response with supporters of the assassin, Malik Mumtaz Husain Qadri, taking to the streets claiming that the verdict would produce a 1,000 more Qadris while the scattered liberals voiced concerns about the security of the judge who issued the order.
Already rewards have been announced at rallies in Qadri's support for anyone who kills the judge amid calls from civil society to the government to show its writ and ensure protection for the judge besides action against those holding out such open threats.
Qadri - a member of the elite force of the Punjab Police who was part of Taseer's security detail on the day of the assassination in the heart of the federal capital in January this year - was awarded two death sentences on two counts of murder and terrorism by Parvez Ali Shah during in-camera proceedings in the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.
Qadri has been given seven days to file an appeal but there were reports of his lawyers claiming that he was happy with the verdict as it was a sacrifice for the Prophet. Such being the case it was unclear whether he would go for an appeal of the death sentence. Qadri had surrendered soon after gunning down Taseer and also taken great pride in his act which was lauded by many including lawyers.
The verdict once again brought into sharp relief the ideological divide within the country that was evident following Taseer's assassination and reinforced two months later with the killing of Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti. Media coverage of the verdict was muted though Taseer's assassination for his support to a Christian woman sentenced to death under the blasphemy law had dominated domestic headlines for weeks.
Anticipating trouble, the authorities had cordoned off the jail premises and Qadri's supporters had to gather at a distance from Adiala Jail. After the verdict was announced, the judge was apparently taken out of the premises from a rear exit as Qadri's supporters protested a distance away. Within hours of the judgement more protests were reported from Lahore and Rawalpindi while banners came up across cities in support of the assassin with one saying "Qadri, we salute your glory".