A mentally ill British national held in Pakistan has been sentenced to death for blasphemy after claiming to be the Prophet Muhammad.
Mohammed Asghar, 69, was arrested in Rawalpindi, near the Pakistani capital Islamabad, in 2010 shortly after returning from a trip to the U.K., where he was treated for paranoid schizophrenia, his lawyer said.
It was then that he allegedly wrote letters to various individuals, including a police officer, claiming that he was the revered prophet of Islam.
According to The Associated Press:
“The defendant later fell into a dispute with a tenant who brought the blasphemy complaint against him to police, the lawyer said.”
“The doctor treating Asghar in Edinburgh [England] 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.”
Reuters says the law firm representing Asghar, which asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisals from Muslim extremists, had not been able to properly represent their client since October, when they were barred from the courtroom by the presiding judge.
The Pakistani newspaper Dawn says public prosecutor Javed Gul produced copies of the letters Asghar allegedly wrote at trial, arguing they were a violation of Pakistan’s penal code that forbids anyone from defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed and directs a punishment of death or life imprisonment.
Dawn says 1,274 people have been charged under blasphemy laws from 1986-2010.
“Accusations of blasphemy are surging in Muslim-majority Pakistan, according to an Islamabad-based think-tank, the Center for Research and Security Studies.”
“The charges are hard to fight because the law does not define what is blasphemous and presenting the evidence can sometimes be considered a new infringement. Many analysts see the allegations as score-settling or a front for property grabs.”
AP quotes the British High Commission in Islamabad as saying it was aware of Asghar’s case and provided assistance to him. Senior British Foreign Office Minister Sayeeda Warsi later said in a statement that authorities “will be raising our concerns in the strongest possible terms with the Pakistani government.”