South Asia

British Pakistani sentenced to death for blasphemy

Sixty-nine-year-old British Pakistani Mohammed Asghar was sentenced to death on Thursday and fined Rs. 10 lakh on charges of violating the blasphemy law.

The prosecutor in the case Mr. Javed Gul told The Hindu on the phone that the trial was held in a sessions court in Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi. Mr. Gul said Asghar had come to Pakistan in 2010 and he was accused of printing visiting cards in the name of the Prophet Mohammed. Police had also seized some letters he had written where he wrote that he was the Prophet. Handwriting experts had testified in court that the letters were written by Asghar.

When asked to say something in his defence, Asghar confessed he was indeed the Holy Prophet, Mr. Gul pointed out.

The additional sessions judge had also constituted a medical board to evaluate his mental health and the board had said that he was not insane and in perfect health, he added. Under section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

However, his legal representatives who were thrown out of the case in October 2013, said that Asghar had a long and well diagnosed history of mental illness starting from 1993. He had also suffered a stroke in 2000 and walked with a limp. They are going in appeal against the sentence in the high court.

A resident of Edinburgh, Scotland, he was detained under the Mental Health Act in February 2010 for suffering from paranoid delusions and later admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital. It was diagnosed that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. He was later released into the care of his family, subject to visits by social health workers who reported that he was not taking his medication. Neither he nor his family had an insight to his illness and the need for medication and care.

He decided to return to Rawalpindi where he owned two properties but he found that one of them was being occupied by the complainant, Hafeez Awan, who is alleged to be a member of the land mafia and has several anti-corruption cases against him, the legal representatives said.

Asghar filed a complaint against Awan and then left for Haj. On his return in September, he was arrested on blasphemy charges and all the evidence including the letters, was handed over to the police by the complainant. His defence lawyers obtained his medical records in March 2011 from the National Health Service in the UK and an affidavit from the consultant psychiatrist at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Edinburgh.

The legal team then filed all the documents in court and said Asghar was not fit to face trial. The judge had then ordered for a medical evaluation. On January 8, 2012, Asghar attempted suicide and was admitted to the GHQ hospital in Rawalpindi. The legal representatives said that they had alerted the jail authorities of a possibility of suicide which is not uncommon among cases of paranoid schizophrenia.

No steps were taken and he developed acute respiratory distress and was kept in the critical care unit for several days. While he was recovering, a hastily constituted medical board with one psychiatrist was sent to evaluate him in hospital. The doctors received threatening calls and the hospital wanted to send Asghar back to jail.

The medical report said he suffered from “major organic affective depression.” By then the judge had changed and he did not hear the evidence, his legal representatives said. He also threw out the lawyers representing Asghar and appointed a state counsel. No evidence was adduced and even for the final judgement his legal team was not informed. Now they are concerned about his health which has deteriorated and there is a high risk of suicide if he is not treated for his illness, and also homicide in jail. The matter is being taken up with the jail authorities.

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 8:09:40 AM |

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