Tens of thousands of Pakistanis chanting anti-government slogans on Tuesday attended the funeral of a police officer executed the day before for assassinating a secular governor in 2011 over accusations of
As a precaution against violence, authorities closed all schools and stepped up security in Islamabad and the adjacent city of Rawalpindi, where the funeral of Mumtaz Qadri was held. Roads around key government buildings and diplomatic compounds were also closed off, said police official Ashfaq Tarar.
Qadri’s supporters threw rose petals at the ambulance carrying his coffin through Rawalpindi and he was given a martyr’s funeral before being buried in Islamabad. Earlier, authorities put a gag order on local media covering the funeral, warning outlets in a letter that they would face closure if their reporting “glorifies extremism”.
In response to the gag order, some stick-wielding supporters beat up a local media crew in Rawalpindi, breaking at least one video camera.
Footage posted on social media showed Qadri’s supporters jeering Pakistan’s Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid at the Karachi airport. One threw a shoe at the minister, who ducked to avoid it.
Qadri’s hanging on Monday triggered street protests in several Pakistani cities. A number of prominent religious leaders, politicians and militant groups in Pakistan had defended his actions.
He was executed for killing secular Governor Salman Taseer, who had called for reforms of the country’s harsh blasphemy laws. Qadri said he killed Taseer because the governor had allegedly committed blasphemy by campaigning to change the laws and by supporting a jailed Christian woman accused of desecrating Islam’s holy book, the Koran.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws allow for anyone convicted of insulting Islam or the Prophet Mohammed to be sentenced to death, though people often take the law into their own hands.
The January 2011 assassination horrified Pakistan’s relatively small liberal elite. However, many Pakistanis, including some in the religious establishment and in legal circles, praised Qadri.
Tens of thousands of Qadri’s supporters walked for miles to reach the funeral venue as police had blocked most of the roads for traffic, said police official Mohsin Abbas.
Many chanted in support of Qadri while others carried posters with photographs of the former officer. Ahmad Nadeem wore a shirt reading: “I’m Mumtaz Qadri.”
“I wouldn’t hesitate to do the same,” he said.
Pakistan is deeply conservative, and for decades the government tolerated and even encouraged certain Islamic militant groups, viewing them as a bulwark against arch-rival India. Perceived affronts to Islam can ignite street protests and lynchings.
In recent years, the government has moved to counter Islamic extremism as it has battled a home-grown insurgency that has killed tens of thousands of people. Pakistan lifted a moratorium on the death penalty after a Taliban attack on a school in December 2014 and has executed over 300 convicts since then.
The government has also introduced a ban on hate speech and a media blackout on militant groups. It has promised to improve security for religious minorities – who are often targeted by extremists – and strengthen legislation on individual rights and women’s rights.