Pakistan Sentences Mentally Ill Man to Death for Blasphemy

Press Release
January 24, 2014

Pakistan Sentences Mentally Ill Man to Death for Blasphemy

Contact: Natalie Butz, nbutz@aiusa.org, 202-675-8761, @AIUSAmedia

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Pakistan must immediately and unconditionally release a man sentenced to death under the country's blasphemy laws today, Amnesty International said.

Mohammad Asghar, a U.K. citizen with mental illness living in Pakistan, was first arrested in 2010 after allegedly sending letters to various officials claiming he was a prophet.

"Mohammad Asghar is now facing the gallows simply for writing a series of letters," said Polly Truscott, Amnesty International's deputy Asia Pacific director. "He does not deserve punishment. No one should be charged on the basis of this sort of conduct."

Pakistan's blasphemy laws are used indiscriminately against both Muslims and non-Muslims, and violate the basic human rights of freedom of religion and thought.

"The blasphemy laws undermine the rule of law, and people facing charges risk death and other harm in detention," said Truscott. "Pakistan must immediately release Mohammed Ashgar and reform its blasphemy laws to ensure that this will not happen again."

In November 2012, another British citizen, Masud Ahmad, of the Ahmadi sect, was imprisoned for reciting a passage from the Qu'ran, a prohibited act for Ahmadis under the country's blasphemy laws.

Masud has been denied bail and his health is deteriorating as he languishes in jail awaiting an appeal of his sentence which has yet to be concluded.

The Ahmaddiya community are legally barred from calling themselves Muslim, and professing, practicing and propagating their faith as Muslims.

"The Pakistani authorities must immediately and unconditionally release both Mohammad Asghar and Masud Ahmad and guarantee their safety and that of their families," said Truscott. "Several individuals have been attacked, some even killed following charges of blasphemy."

The blasphemy laws have fostered a climate of religiously-motivated violence and persecution, which leads to persecution of religious minorities and Muslims alike. They are often used to make unfounded malicious accusations to settle personal scores in land and business disputes.

"At a time when Pakistan is reeling from a spate of abuses which perpetrators seek to justify as a defence of religious sentiments, reform of the blasphemy laws is more urgent than ever," said Truscott.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million members in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.