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British man sentenced to death in Pakistan for claiming to be a prophet

The court rejected defence claims that the 65-year-old has mental health problems.

Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, where the man was sentenced today.
Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, where the man was sentenced today.
Image: Anjum Naveed/AP/PA

A COURT IN Pakistan has sentenced a British man to death for blasphemy for claiming to be a prophet of Islam, a prosecutor and police said today.

Mohammad Asghar, a British national of Pakistani origin, was arrested in 2010 in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, for writing letters claiming to be a prophet, police said.

The special court inside Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail, where Asghar is being held, rejected defence claims that the 65-year-old has mental health problems.

“Asghar claimed to be a prophet even inside the court. He confessed it in front of the judge,” Javed Gul, a government prosecutor, told AFP.

“Asghar used to write it even on his visiting card.”

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim, and insulting the Prophet Mohammed can carry the death penalty.

But the country has had a de facto moratorium on civilian hangings since 2008. Only one person has been executed since then, a soldier convicted by court martial.

In 2006 the then-president Pervez Musharraf commuted the death sentence on a British man convicted of murder after appeals from then-prime minister Tony Blair and Prince Charles.

The court also ordered Asghar to pay a fine of one million Pakistani rupees ($10,000), Gul said.

A medical board examined Asghar after defence lawyers said he was suffering from some mental disorder, but Gul said they “declared him as a normal person”.

“Asghar was failed to produce even a single witness in his favour,” Gul added.

A police official in Sadiq Abad neighbourhood of Rawalpindi, where Asghar was arrested, confirmed the death sentence.

Pakistan’s tough blasphemy laws have attracted criticism from rights groups, who say they are frequently abused to settle personal scores.

In 2012, Rimsha Masih, a young Christian girl, was arrested for alleged blasphemy in Islamabad.

The case provoked international concern because of her age, estimated at 14, and because she was variously described as “uneducated” or suffering from Down’s syndrome.

The charges against her were eventually thrown out and last June she fled to Canada with her family.

Even unproven allegations of blasphemy can provoke a violent public response. There have been several cases where mobs have attacked mentally ill people who have made supposedly blasphemous claims.

- © AFP 2014.

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