Edinburgh man’s Pakistan blasphemy death sentence

Reformers are often targeted. Picture: Getty
Reformers are often targeted. Picture: Getty
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A MENTALLY ill pensioner from Edinburgh has been sentenced to death in Pakistan after being convicted of blasphemy charges.

Mohammed Asghar, 68, was arrested in 2010 in Rawalpindi, near Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad, for apparently claiming to be the Prophet Mohammed in letters that were later produced at his trial. But a lawyer that previously defended Asghar said the case was really a property dispute and that he suffers from mental illness.

A judge convicted and sentenced Asghar, who is of Pakistani origin, yesterday.

Asghar returned to Pakistan in 2010 after being treated for paranoid schizophrenia in Edinburgh, where he is still believed to have family.

He later fell into a dispute with a tenant who brought the blasphemy complaint against him to police.

The doctor treating Asghar in Edinburgh said in a letter dated June 2011 that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and believed that the Pakistani and British governments were attempting to control him. The letter was provided to The Associated Press by his lawyer who asked not to be named as those involved in blasphemy cases face threats and violence.

Prosecutors disputed that Ashgar had mental problems.

The British High Commission in Islamabad said it was aware of Asghar’s case and provided assistance to him.

Lawyers said they will appeal against Asghar’s conviction, and they were worried about his mental condition and physical safety while he is in prison.

Scores of people have been arrested in Pakistan under the country’s harsh blasphemy laws, which carry sentences of life in prison or the death penalty, though executions are rarely carried out. Rights groups say the laws often are exploited for personal gain and that members of Pakistan’s minority population are disproportionately targeted.

People accused of blasphemy also have been attacked and killed by angry vigilante mobs.

Few leaders in the predominantly Muslim country have shown willingness to tackle the contentious issue, especially after two prominent politicians who criticised the blasphemy law were murdered in recent years. One of the politicians was shot by his own bodyguard, who then attracted adoring crowds.

A British doctor, 72-year-old Masood Ahmad, is also in prison in Pakistan, charged with blasphemy after a mullah used a mobile telephone to covertly record a conversation with him in his dispensary.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are aware that a British national, Mohammed Asghar, is facing the death penalty in Pakistan. We strongly object to the use of the death penalty and will continue to provide consular assistance to him and his family during this difficult time.

“We have continuously made representations to the Pakistan government on behalf of Mr Asghar and we will continue to do so. We are opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and we are dedicated to doing all we can to prevent the execution of any British national.”