RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AP) — Tens of thousands of Pakistanis converged Tuesday on a city near the country's capital to attend the funeral of a police officer executed the day before for assassinating a secular governor in 2011 over accusations of blasphemy.
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 expected later in the day. Roads around key government buildings and diplomatic compounds were also closed off, said police official Ashfaq Tarar.
Qadri's hanging on Monday triggered street protests in several Pakistani cities as some religious, political leaders and militant groups have publicly defended him. He was executed for killing secular Gov. Salman Taseer who had called for reforms of the country's harsh blasphemy laws.
Shortly after the attack, Qadri said he killed Taseer because the governor had allegedly committed blasphemy by campaigning to change the laws and also in support of a jailed Christian woman accused of desecrating Islam's holy book, the Quran.
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. One of those in the crowds, Ahmad Nadeem, wore a T-shirt with the painted logo: "I'm Mumtaz Qadri."
"I wouldn't hesitate to do the same," Nadeem said.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws allow for anyone convicted of insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad to be sentenced to death, though people often take the law into their own hands, with lynchings on the streets and killings of those accused of blasphemy.
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 — a sign of the spread of Islamic fundamentalist thought in this South Asian nation.
Pakistan lifted a moratorium on the death penalty after a Taliban school attack in December 2014 and has executed over 300 convicts since then.