Pakistan today executed the man who murdered governor of Punjab Salman Taseer because he publicly spoke out against the country's blasphemy laws.
Mumtaz Qadri fatally shot Taseer near his home in Islamabad in 2011. He was hanged at approximately 4.30am local time on Monday, and street protests broke out hours later. He is considered a hero for defending the faith by some Muslim hardliners.
After his arrest, Qadri told police he killed Taseer because the governor had championed the cause of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death in a blasphemy case that arose out of a personal dispute. Taseer had said the law was being misused and should be reformed.
Qadri's attorney said his client told him he had no regrets for killing the governor.
"I have met him twice in jail. He said that even if Allah gave me 50 million lives, I would still sacrifice all of them," lawyer Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry said.
The head of the Islamabad Bar Council called for a day-long strike of lawyers in protest against the hanging and protesters briefly blocked the main road between Rawalpindi and Islamabad on Monday after news of the execution broke. Police later dispersed them and closed off the road to prevent more demonstrations.
Chaudhry predicted larger demonstrations coinciding with Qadri's funeral, which his legal group said would be held on Tuesday.
"From what we are seeing, this protest movement is only going to increase," he said.
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, today branded Taseer's murder "heinous", and "an act that traumatised Pakistan and brought to light the extent extremism and hatred towards minorities in Pakistan."
"The few voices of liberality in Pakistan will have an uphill struggle making the nation one that is egalitarian, yet in the meanwhile western nations including Britain have deduced that Christians in Pakistan rarely face persecution, a judgement that has led to the re-persecution of thousands of Pak-Christians stranded in Thailand," he added.
"Pakistan's current government should be commended for their efforts towards upholding justice in this landmark judicial process. Whatever one thinks of death sentences it is the prevailing law in Pakistan and to bring it to fruition in this manner has been a brave decision. The hanging of Mumtaz Qadri illustrates that justice is achievable and that terrorists can no longer hide behind their faith and public support and that former impunity has been terminated."
More than 100 people are charged with blasphemy each year in predominantly Muslim Pakistan, which stringently upholds the laws. Those accused of "defiling the Prophet Muhammad" face the death penalty, while life imprisonment is given for damaging the Quran. "Insulting another's religious feelings" can result in up to 10 years in jail.
Human rights groups say the blasphemy laws are frequently misused by extremists, however, and false charges brought against minority groups in order to settle personal scores or to seize property or businesses. No one has yet been hanged, but those convicted languish in prison.
Controversy over the law has exposed the growing gap between religious conservatives and liberals in Pakistan with hard-line religious leaders considering Taseer a blasphemer himself for even criticising the law.
Some lawyers showered Qadri with rose petals when he first arrived in court days after the killing. The judge who first convicted him was forced to flee the country after death threats.
Additional reporting by Reuters.