Islamabad, Jan. 24 (Reuters): 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 law firm said today.
Accusations of blasphemy are surging in Muslim-majority Pakistan, according to an Islamabad-based think-tank, the Centre for Research and Security Studies.
Muhammad Asghar from Edinburgh was sentenced to death yesterday, the law firm said, citing court officials in Rawalpindi. The firm said it was not present during the judgment because the judge had prevented it from representing Asghar in court since October.
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.
In London, the British foreign office said it would be raising the matter urgently with the Pakistani government. “We are aware that Muhammad Asghar, a British national, was yesterday sentenced to death by a court in Rawalpindi,” it said.
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been providing consular support to Asghar, and we will be raising our concerns in the strongest possible terms with the Pakistani government.”
Asghar was arrested in 2010 after writing letters to a lawyer and politician who said he was a prophet. Though Asghar did not post the letters, a disgruntled tenant whom he was in the process of evicting took them to the police.