Islamabad: The judge who sentenced former police guard Mumtaz Qadri to death for murdering Punjab governor Salman Taseer has left for Saudi Arabia with his family after receiving death threats, it was reported yesterday.

Sensing the gravity of the situation the government arranged the lodging of District and Sessions Judge Pervaiz Ali Shah and his family abroad, the special prosecutor in the case, said advocate Saiful Malook.

Malook said he had also been receiving threats to his life and urged the government to arrange enhanced security for him.

Qadri was one of Taseer's security guards when he gunned down the governor in Islamabad in January.

During the trial he confessed to killing Taseer for his criticism of the country's blasphemy law and for sympathising with a Christian woman convicted under it.

Earlier this month the Islamabad High Court admitted for consideration Qadri's appeal against the verdict of the District and Sessions Judge and stayed the execution of the death sentence till a decision on the petition.

Judge Shah has been on long leave since sentencing Qadri to death.

About three dozen religious parties, including Sunni Tehrik and Jamatud Dawa, have been pressing the government to remove the judge from his post.

Verdict criticised

Clerics have termed his verdict "un-Islamic" and demanded action against the judge. Police are investigating the kidnapping of Shahbaz Taseer, son of Salman Taseer, on the lines that Qadri's sympathisers might be involved.

Interior Minister Rahman Malek said recently that Shahbaz Taseer was alive and his kidnappers were holding him near the border with Afghanistan. Shahbaz Taseer was kidnapped from Lahore's Gulberg area during the last week of August.

Meanwhile, the top judge in Pakistani-administered Kashmir was rushed to hospital after being shot yesterday while walking in the autonomous region's capital of Muzaffarabad, police said.

Gulam Mustafa Mughal was taking an evening walk at a university recreation ground when someone lurking in the bushes shot him once in the abdomen in the city, 120km northeast of the capital Islamabad.