Anti-government feelings run high at funeral of Pakistani official’s killer

Story highlights

Thousands turn out for funeral of ex-bodyguard who killed Punjab's governor

The crowd shouts slogans, criticizes government, praises guard as a martyr

Rawalpindi, Pakistan CNN  — 

Thousands converged Tuesday on the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi to bury a former bodyguard who was executed for killing the governor of Punjab province over his opposition to the country’s controversial blasphemy law.

Funeral prayers took place Tuesday afternoon in Liaqat Park, where a massive crowd shouted slogans, criticized the government and praised Mumtaz Qadri as a martyr who died for the cause of the Prophet Mohammed.

Qadri was hanged early Monday at a Rawalpindi jail, the city’s deputy police commissioner said. He was found guilty of shooting and killing Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer in January 2011 after the governor had spoken out against the blasphemy law that makes insulting Islam a crime punishable by death.

Mourners packed the roads around the Rawalpindi park, while leaders from prominent Islamist political parties attended the proceedings. An ambulance festooned with rose petals brought Qadri’s body to the funeral. Men carried signs in celebration of what they called Qadri’s “bravery.”

Unprecedented media blackout

People gather Tuesday for funeral prayers for Qadri in Rawalpindi.

Security was increased across Pakistan on Tuesday.

There was no coverage of the funeral on local media. An unofficial notice from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority had called for an unprecedented media blackout, so the parade of satellite vans usually seen at an event of this scale were absent.

Hafiz Shahid, a mourner from Rawalpindi, told CNN that “the government should come and see this. This is the biggest funeral in Pakistan.”

Journalists said it’s unclear if the large turnout reflects the feelings of a majority of Pakistani society or shows the Pakistani state’s lack of clout in dealing with militancy.

‘Extremism is unbowed in Pakistan’

Qadri's supporters gather around the ambulance carrying his body.

Cyril Almeida, a senior Pakistani journalist, told CNN that “extremism is unbowed in Pakistan.”

“The state is awkwardly trying to reassert its primacy, but generations now of Pakistanis have been raised with the belief that their version of religion trumps everything else,” Almeida said. “The blasphemy law is almost incidental to the larger trend of a radicalized society that has slipped out of the control of a weak state.”

The journalist said the problem was not the number of extremists but “the intensity a handful of groups and a small number of individuals operating at the margins can (exert to) hold the wider populace hostage to their view.”

Small protests spread across the country Monday after Qadri’s execution, and a video surfaced of his supporters harassing Pakistani Information Minister Pervez Rashid.

Sitting in the lounge of the Karachi airport, flanked by security, Rashid faced catcalls from men who condemned Qadri’s death as a murder and who threatened to beat him with their shoes.

CNN’S Sophia Saifi reported from Islamabad, and Adeel Raja reported from Rawalpindi.