British man jailed for blasphemy wounded in Pakistan jail

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 25, 2014 4:53 AM

By Katharine Houreld

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani policeman on Thursday shot and wounded a 70-year-old British man with a history of mental illness in the jail where he is on death row for blasphemy, his lawyers said.

Muhammad Asghar, from Edinburgh, was arrested in 2010 and sentenced to death in January after a disgruntled tenant presented letters he had written saying he was a prophet.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Muslim-majority Pakistan.

A constable shot Asghar in jail in Rawalpindi, next to Islamabad, his lawyers said without elaborating. Police and the British High Commission did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

This year has seen a record number of blasphemy accusations, according to an Islamabad-based think-tank, the Center for Research and Security Studies. Many analysts say the claims are increasingly used to settle scores or grab property.

Blasphemy charges are hard to fight because the law does not define what is blasphemous. Presenting the evidence can sometimes itself be considered a fresh infringement.

Asghar had previously been detained under the mental health act in Britain and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, according to documents his lawyers supplied to Reuters.

His lawyers were barred from attending the last few months of his trial.

The law firm asked not to be identified for fear of being targeted by extremists.

Those accused of blasphemy are often lynched and lawyers in defending those accused of blasphemy cases have frequently been attacked. Judges have been attacked for dismissing cases and many of the accused face years in jail as their trials drag on.

Earlier this year, a prominent human rights lawyer representing an English professor accused of making a blasphemous Facebook post was shot dead after prosecution lawyers had threatened to kill him in front of a judge.

Last week, gunmen shot dead a liberal professor of Islamic law in the southern city of Karachi. The killing followed years of threats from his colleagues and allegations of blasphemy.

Two prominent politicians who suggested reforming the law have been killed, one by his own bodyguard. Another politician who discussed reforming the law on television is now facing blasphemy charges.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)