Monday, February 03, 2014

Briton sentenced to death for blasphemy

Pakistan's blasphemy laws are a mockery.

Muhammad Asghar, a 69-year-old British citizen, has been sentenced to death for blasphemy by a federal sharia court in Pakistan after apparently writing letters claiming to be the prophet Mohammed. The case arises from a property dispute between Mr Asghar and a tenant. The tenant reported him to the police.

His family in Edinburgh say Mr Asghar was treated for paranoid schizophrenia in Edinburgh before he returned to Pakistan. He has already been in prison since 2010 and is said to have attempted suicide. They say an appeal may take up to five years to be heard by Pakistan's High Court because of a huge backlog of cases.

Lawyers have now filed an appeal against his conviction. They say they are concerned about Mr Asghar's mental condition and his physical safety while in prison. Grounds for the appeal include the court's failure to consider any evidence of his mental health problems, "despite repeated requests."

Sensible debate about blasphemy laws in Pakistan, we are told, is impossible. Court cases are obscured by lawyers afraid of repeating contentious statements in court and journalists fearful of reporting them. It is common knowledge that there is almost always a property dispute or a personal slight at the centre of things, but it is a brave judge - and one not much longer for this world - who finds a defendant not guilty.

Three years ago the governor of Punjab was shot dead for taking up the cause of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy. His killer was showered with rose petals as he arrived in court.

Meanwhile Muhammad Asghar languishes in prison, unaware of the final outcome of his case.

Evangelical Alliance Scotland have appealed to the governments of Scotland and the UK to intercede with Pakistan's government on the man's behalf.

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