Sunday, January 26, 2014
Human rights campaigners have called for the immediate release of a man sentenced to death under Pakistan's Islamic blasphemy laws
A Muslim judge convicted and sentenced Mohammad Asghar, from Edinburgh, Scotland following a trial. Asghar was arrested in 2010 in Rawalpindi, near the capital Islamabad, for claiming to be the Prophet Mohammed in letters sent to various officials, according to prosecutor Javed Gul. But a lawyer who defended Asghar said that he suffers from mental illness and the case was really a property dispute. Amnesty International's deputy Asia Pacific director Polly Truscott said: "Mohammad Asghar is now facing the gallows simply for writing a series of letters. He does not deserve punishment. No one should be charged on the basis of this sort of conduct. The blasphemy laws undermine the rule of law, and people facing charges risk death and other harm in detention. Pakistan must immediately release Mohammad Ashgar and reform its blasphemy laws to ensure that this will not happen again." Asghar, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, returned to Pakistan in 2010 after being treated for paranoid schizophrenia in Edinburgh, the lawyer said. He later fell into a dispute with a tenant who brought the blasphemy complaint against him to police. Another British citizen, Masud Ahmad, of the Ahmadi sect, was imprisoned in November 2012 for reciting a passage from the Koran, a prohibited act for Ahmadis under the country's blasphemy laws. Scores of people have been arrested in Pakistan under the country's harsh blasphemy laws, which carry sentences of life in prison or the death penalty. Rights groups say that the laws are often exploited for personal gain and that members of Pakistan's minority population are disproportionately targeted. People accused of blasphemy have also been attacked and killed by angry vigilante mobs. Few leaders in the predominantly Muslim country have been willing to tackle the contentious issue, especially after two prominent politicians who criticised the blasphemy law were murdered in recent years. One of the politicians was shot by his own bodyguard, who then attracted adoring crowds.