01/25/2014, 00.00
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Rawalpindi, British citizen sentenced to death for blasphemy

Mohammad Asghar , a British citizen of Pakistani origin, was arrested in 2010 for having proclaimed himself a prophet. The man suffers from mental disorders, but the Court of First Instance rejected the request for clemency submitted by lawyers. Ashghar , 70, is a resident of Edinburgh. The Scottish Government has announced that it will do all in its power to solve the case.

Islamabad ( AsiaNews) - A court in Rawalpindi has sentenced Mohammad Asghar , a British citizen aged 70 , who was arrested for blasphemy in 2010, to death. Of Pakistani origin but resident in Edinburgh, the man had written several letters to police officers in which he declared himself a prophet.

His lawyers have asked the judges for an act of clemency by stressing the man's mental problems.  In fact he continued to proclaim himself a prophet even in court during his trial. The lawyers also submitted a medical report from the Royal Victoria Hospital in Edinburgh in which doctors explain that Asghar is a paranoid schizophrenic. The Court has refused all requests for clemency and has refused to accept the reports of British doctors. The lawyers will present to the judges the 2008 moratorium on the death penalty and hope that the ruling is overturned on appeal.

A spokesman for the Scottish government has expressed "concern" over the situation: "We urge the Pakistani authorities to respect the moratorium on the death penalty. At this difficult time we are close to the family of Asghar". Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi , an official of the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pointed out that the ministry is putting great pressure on the Pakistani government to resolve the case.

Asghar is the second British citizen to suffer from the notorious blasphemy laws . Earlier this year, Masood Ahmed, a man of 72 from the Ahmadi community was jailed on charges of blasphemy.

In December 2013, the Federal Sharia Court upheld an appeal by a lawyer seeking the application of the death penalty for blasphemy cases instead of life in prison. The Court has therefore deleted the life imprisonment by section 295 C of the Pakistani Penal Code, which together with paragraph 295 A and B form the so-called " Blasphemy laws ."

For years, the Catholic and Protestant Churches have been calling for the repeal of the 'black law'. Introduced in 1986 by then dictator Zia al-Haq to meet the demands of Islamist groups, the law imposes life imprisonment or the death sentence on anyone who desecrates the Koran or insults the name of the Prophet Muhammad.  In 2009, AsiaNews led an international campaign to raise awareness about the law, but no Pakistani political party or government has ever tried to touch the law. Those who did advocate changes, like Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, paid with their life for trying.

According to figures put together by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, at least 964 people have been charged under the blasphemy law between 1986 and 2009, including 479 Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis, 14 Hindus and 10 of unknown religion. Over this period, more than 40 extra-judicial killings (​​by individuals or mobs) have taken place against innocent people. Mentally and physically disabled people and minors have also been put on trial for blasphemy, including Rimsha Masih who was falsely accused and later acquitted after a massive pressure campaign on Islamabad.



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