Pakistan has handed a death sentence for blasphemy to a
69-year-old Briton with a history of mental illness, even
though his lawyers were barred from the courtroom partway
through the trial, the lawyers said today.
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.
Blasphemy is punishable by death in Muslim-majority Pakistan.
Muhammad Asghar from Edinburgh was sentenced to death on
Thursday, the law firm said, citing court officials in the
city of Rawalpindi, neighbouring the capital.
The firm said it was not present during the judgment because
the judge had prevented it from representing Asghar in court
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
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 defence, and did not
question a state-appointed board that declared him sane, the
The state counsel could not immediately be reached for
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.