Pakistan murderer gets many Valentines
Pakistani students brought Valentine's cards and flowers on Monday to the detained self-confessed killer of one of the country's most liberal politicians.
Supporters of police commando Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri gathered outside the high-security prison in Rawalpindi, the city headquarters of the Pakistan military, where he was to appear before an anti-terrorism court later Monday.
The Islamist confessed to shooting dead Punjab governor Salman Taseer, whom he was assigned to protect, on January 4 because he objected to the politician's wish to amend blasphemy laws which carry the death penalty.
The murder has divided Pakistan. The powerful conservative religious right praised the gunman for silencing a dangerous reformer. An appalled liberal elite interpreted the killing as a death knell for reform efforts.
Outside Adiyala prison, about 140 Islamists rallied in support of Qadri, joined by 10 students from a government college who turned up with posters, Valentine's cards and flowers.
"Celebrating Valentine's Day with Mumtaz Qadri," read one placard.
They handed over flowers and cards to jail officials who said they would give them to Qadri, as students from religious schools shouted "Free Qadri!".
Valentine's Day is increasingly celebrated in Pakistan, a Muslim country where many conservatives disapprove of the occasion as a Western import.
"We admit it is not our tradition and it is wrong to celebrate Valentine's Day, but it is now widely celebrated and the media is full with Valentine's Day activities," student Hussain Ahmed, 22, told AFP at the jail.
"We love Qadri because he loves the holy Prophet and that is why we have brought flowers and Valentine's Day cards for him," Ahmed said.
Qari Hanif Qureshi, a firebrand speaker and apparent inspiration for Qadri, also said Valentine's Day was not Muslim.
"It is wrong to celebrate it, but since these students have come to express their love and support for Qadri, we cannot turn them away," Qureshi told AFP.