Mumtaz Qadri charged with Salman Taseer murder

image captionMalik Mumtaz Hussein Qadri has become a hero to many in Pakistan

A police bodyguard who admitted assassinating Punjab Governor Salman Taseer last month has been charged with murder in a Pakistani court.

Qadri appeared at an anti-terrorism court in a Rawalpindi city jail where supporters brought Valentine's Day cards and gifts.

He said he killed Mr Taseer because the governor backed liberal reforms to controversial blasphemy laws.

The assassination has divided Pakistan, with many hailing Qadri as a hero.

Qadri was part of Mr Taseer's protection team but opened fire on the governor as he was about to get into his car on 4 January.

'Apostasy killing'

Qadri's lawyers told the BBC that although he admitted killing the governor, he argued that it was not unlawful because "he killed an apostate who insulted the prophet."

Qadri told the court: "I haven't killed anyone unlawfully. I have taught a lesson to apostate Salman Taseer in the light of the teachings of the Koran and the Tradition of the Prophet."

media captionAleem Maqbool reports from the town of Gojra in Punjab where tensions between majority Muslims and minority Christians have increased since the killing

A senior member of his defence team said that as a result, "Qadri has neither pleaded guilty, nor not guilty."

But analysts say that despite his justification, his confession is likely to be taken as a guilty plea by the court.

Qadri is next due in court on 26 February, when witnesses and evidence will be presented. The prosecution has lined up about 40 witnesses, including Mr Taseer's son and other policemen on duty at the time of the murder.

Outside the court, activists carried banners praising Qadri and demanded his immediate release. Some gave police flowers and a Valentine's Day card they wanted delivered to him.

Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law has been in the spotlight since a Christian mother-of-five, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death in November for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Asia Bibi denies the charge.

Critics of the law say it has been used to persecute minority faiths in Pakistan, and is sometimes exploited for grudges.

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