Mail Online UK Posted Jan.24, 2014
A mentally ill British man has been sentenced to death in Pakistan after writing letters claiming he is the Prophet Mohammad, his lawyers said today.
Muhammad Asghar from Edinburgh was found guilty of blasphemy, a crime punishable by death, in the city of Rawalpindi, neighbouring the capital Islamabad.
Despite his history of mental illness, the 68-year-old’s lawyers were barred from the courtroom partway through the trial, the firm said on Friday.
Accusations of blasphemy are surging in Pakistan, according to an Islamabad-based think-tank, the Center for Research and Security Studies. Many analysts see the claims as score-settling or a front for property grabs.
The charges are hard to fight because the law does not define what is blasphemous and presenting the evidence can sometimes itself be considered a fresh infringement
The firm said it was not present during the trial because the judge had prevented it from representing Asghar in court since October.
He was arrested in 2010 after writing letters to a lawyer and politician claiming to be a prophet. Though Asghar did not post the letters, a disgruntled tenant whom he was in the process of evicting took them to police, the law firm said
Asghar has previously been detained under the mental health act in Britain and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, it added.
After the removal of the law firm, Asghar was appointed a state counsel, who did not put his medical history in evidence or call witnesses in his defense, and did not question a state-appointed board that declared him sane, the firm said.
The state counsel could not immediately be reached for comment.
The law firm asked not to be identified for fear of being targeted by extremists. Lawyers defending those accused of blasphemy frequently receive death threats and politicians supporting reform of the law have been killed.
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.