Pakistan court sentences Briton to death for blasphemy

January 25, 2014 - 7:00:14 am
ISLAMABAD: 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 yesterday.

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.

Pakistan’s tough blasphemy laws have attracted criticism from rights groups, who say they are frequently abused to settle personal scores. “Asghar claimed to be a prophet even inside the court. He confessed it in front of the judge,” Javed Gul, a government prosecutor, said.

“Asghar used to write it even on his visiting card.” Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammed was the last messenger of God.

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 1m Pakistani rupees ($10,000), Gul said.

Asghar has a long history of mental health problems, including hospital treatment in Scotland in 2003, according to source.

The source, who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of blasphemy allegations in Pakistan, said Asghar had attempted suicide while being held in Adiala prison.        AFP