Convicted man also fined $10,000.
A court set up in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail has handed down the death sentence to Mohammed Asghar, a 69-year-old Pakistani-Brit, under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.
Asghar was arrested in 2010 in Rawalpindi for writing letters allegedly claiming to be a prophet, police said on Friday. The special court that tried Asghar rejected defense claims that Asghar was suffering from mental-health problems.
“Asghar claimed to be a prophet even inside the court,” said prosecutor Javed Gul. “He confessed it in front of the judge. [He] used to write it even on his visiting card.” Gul said that a medical board examined Asghar to verify the defense’s claims and “declared him as a normal person.” He added that Asghar had failed to produce “even a single witness in his favor.”
The court has also ordered Asghar to pay a fine of $10,000, said Gul.
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim, and insulting Islam’s Prophet 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.
Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws have attracted criticism from rights groups, who say these 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. She and her family now live in Canada.
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.
Britain’s senior Foreign Office minister Sayeeda Warsi has condemned the conviction. “It is the longstanding policy of Her Majesty’s Government to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances … we will be raising our concerns in the strongest possible terms with the Pakistani government,” she said in a statement issued by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which has been providing consular support to Asghar.