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Pakistan court sentences Briton to death Defence claims 65-year-old mentally ill

ISLAMABAD, Jan 24, (AFP): 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 Friday. 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, told AFP. “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 thenprime minister Tony Blair and Prince Charles.

The court also ordered Asghar to pay a fine of one million Pakistani rupees ($10,000), Gul said. Asghar has a long history of mental health problems, including hospital treatment in Scotland in 2003, according to a source close to the case. 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.

The court refused to accept Asghar’s British medical records, the source said. A medical board examined Asghar after defence lawyers said he was suffering from some mental disorder, but the prosecutor Gul said they “declared him as a normal person”. A police official in Sadiq Abad neighbourhood of Rawalpindi, where Asghar was arrested, confirmed the death sentence.

The British High Commission in Islamabad said it was aware of the case and was providing consular assistance but would not comment in detail. 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 here 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

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