ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani court on Monday upheld the death sentence for a former police commando convicted of killing a provincial governor he had accused of blasphemy but threw out terrorism charges against him.
As a member of the Elite Police Force, Mumtaz Qadri was supposed to be protecting Gov. Salman Taseer in 2011 when he shot and killed him in an upscale neighborhood in the capital, Islamabad.
Qadri's defense was that Taseer opposed Pakistan's so-called "blasphemy laws" by supporting a Christian woman charged with allegedly desecrating Islam's holy book, the Quran. Qadri was convicted and sentenced later that year.
Even though the court on Monday upheld the death sentence, it is unclear whether it will ever be carried out.
Pakistan has thousands of people on death row but also has a moratorium on carrying out executions. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif partially lifted the moratorium in December, allowing it to be used in terrorism-related cases.
Judge Noorul Haq Qureshi read out the decision to a packed courtroom. Qadri's lawyer, Mian Nazir, said the decision to throw out the terrorism-related charges was a "big relief" and that he would continue to appeal against the death sentence.
Pakistani legal expert Salman Akram Raja said the decision puts Qadri in a "relatively better position" since his case is no longer a terrorism-related case, for which authorities can now carry out the death penalty. But that could change in the future, Raja cautioned.
Qadri is now able to try to strike an out-of-court settlement with Taseer's family — something he would not be able to do if he were still facing the terrorism charges, Raja said.
Under Pakistan's legal system, people convicted in certain cases can pay so-called "blood money" to the families of their victims to gain their freedom.
The country's harsh blasphemy laws allow for anyone convicted of insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad to be sentenced to death. Despite this, people often take the law into their own hands, killing those accused of blasphemy.
A group of Qadri's supporters gathered outside the court on Monday blocked a main road and chanted slogans against the decision.