Protests broke out across Pakistan on Monday after the country woke up to the news that Mumtaz Qadri, the former police bodyguard who assassinated Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer in 2011, had been hanged.

On January 4, 2011, Qadri pumped 28 bullets into Taseer in broad daylight in an Islamabad market. He was angered by the governor’s outspoken criticism of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which Taseer argued discriminated against religious minorities. Taseer had also sought a pardon for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was on death row for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Qadri was sentenced to death in October the same year. He was hailed as a hero by religious conservatives and Islamist groups, who had showered him with rose petals and hugged him during his first court appearance. Qadri did not express remorse about his actions, maintaining all along that it was his religious duty to kill Taseer.

With the government seemingly wary of a possible backlash, Qadri’s hanging was shrouded in secrecy and the news that President Mamnoon Hussain had rejected Qadri’s mercy plea was only announced after the execution at Adiala jail in Rawalpindi at 4.30 am local time. His hanging is being viewed as a statement by the government of its intentions to stamp out extremism that has long divided the country.

The secrecy was reminiscent to the hanging in India of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru in 2013, but unlike in Guru's case, Qadri's family got to see him before the end. Qadri’s brother Malik Abid later told Agence France-Presse that his family had been called to the prison on Sunday evening on the grounds that Qadri was unwell.

The news of the execution sparked protests in Lahore, Rawalpindi and near the international airport in Karachi, apart from most major towns in the country. The religious lobby had earlier this month had warned of a backlash should Qadri’s mercy plea be rejected.

Security forces were put on high alert. Dozens police in riot gear as well as ambulances were stationed outside Qadri's home in Rawalpindi early Monday, reported AFP. Hundreds queued up to pay their respects after Qadri's body was brought to his home.

Metro bus service in Islamabad was also suspended as protestors occupied the bus track. In Hyderabad, protesters torched tyres against Qadri's hanging. Lawyer groups in Islamabad announced a one-day protest strike.

Sunni Tehreek, a political wing of Pakistan’s majority Barelvi school of Islam, said it would mount nationwide protests, reported Dawn.

Qadri's funeral will be held on Tuesday at Liaquat Bagh Park in Rawalpindi.

Meanwhile, reactions to the hanging also played out on social media: