​Pakistan sentences British paranoid schizophrenic to death for blasphemy

​Pakistan sentences British paranoid schizophrenic to death for blasphemy

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ARCHIVE PHOTO. Residents hold placards during a rally protesting the killing of the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer in Lahore, Taseer was shot dead by one of his guards, who was apparently incensed by the politician's opposition to the blasphemy law. (Reuters / Mohsin Raza)

ARCHIVE PHOTO. Residents hold placards during a rally protesting the killing of the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer in Lahore, Taseer was shot dead by one of his guards, who was apparently incensed by the politician’s opposition to the blasphemy law. (Reuters / Mohsin Raza)

An elderly British man with paranoid schizophrenia who claimed he was the Prophet Mohammed has been sentenced to death in Pakistan under the country’s blasphemy laws.

Despite a long history of mental illness, Mohammad Asghar was
convicted and sentenced Thursday in Rawalpindi, where he is
currently being held at the high security Adiala Jail. His
lawyers said he has attempted suicide and suffered a stroke while
incarcerated at Adiala. He was arrested in 2010.

His defense, who submitted his health records in the case, say
his illness explains the allegations that he told a tenant, who
was renting a piece of property he owned in Pakistan, that he was
the Prophet Mohammed.

His lawyers, who asked to stay anonymous based on the sensitivity
associated with the blasphemy law, told the Daily Telegraph that
they fear Asghar may attempt suicide once again.

“We want to stress that Mr. Asghar is in a suicidal state and
that the authorities need to put him on suicide watch; he has
suffered a stroke and has already tried to kill himself in
prison.”

A Pakistani medical board called Asghar mentally fit, clearing
the way for the death penalty. He is to remain in jail for five
years before he can appeal the decision.

Asghar, 71, was once sectioned under the Mental Health Act and
was treated at Edinburgh’s Royal Victoria Hospital, where he was
diagnosed.

In an affidavit for his defense, Dr. Jane McLennan, who has
treated him, said his history of illness goes back to 1993. She
said Asghar suffered a stroke in 2000, which exacerbated his
condition and left him with facial palsy and a limp.

Not long before his 2010 arrest in Rawalpindi, Asghar was
admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital with “grandiose”
paranoid delusions, believing former British Prime Minister Tony
Blair and former US President George W. Bush had sent secret
agents for him based on his opposition to the Iraq war. He also
believed Pakistani and international media organizations had
bugged his home.

Upon his release in March 2010, he left for Pakistan on heavy
medication that Dr. McLennan said he unlikely continued. She said
he was at high risk for suicide, offering to treat him in
Edinburgh.

He was first arrested not long after leaving the hospital, when a
tenant he was thought to be trying to evict from one of his
properties gave police several unmailed letters in which Asghar
claimed to be the Prophet.

Pakistan’s strict anti-blasphemy law prohibits such slander of
any recognized religion. Penalties range from a fine to death.
Many see the law as tool for misuse against Christians and other
religious minorities in the predominantly Muslim nation.

“We cannot mention anything about Mr. Asghar’s family;
blasphemy is a very sensitive issue in Pakistan and we ask that
our own names are kept out of the press for our own safety,”

one of Asghar’s lawyers said.

Two top Pakistani politicians, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and
minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were murdered in 2011 for
opposing the law in defense of a Christian woman who had been
sentenced to death for “insulting Islam.”

A spokeswoman for the British High Commission in Islamabad said
it was aware of Asghar’s case and condition, but could not offer
comment, AP reported.

Amnesty International has called for Asghar’s immediate release.

“At a time when Pakistan is reeling from a spate of abuses
which perpetrators seek to justify as a defense of religious
sentiments, reform of the blasphemy laws is more urgent than
ever,
” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific
Director Polly Truscott.