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Mohammed Asghar blasphemy case: This flagrant breach of rights must be undone


Last Thursday, Mohammed Asghar, a 69-year-old shopkeeper from Edinburgh who has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, was sentenced to death. The sentence came after two marathon hearings and a three-year trial process.

It started when a disgruntled tenant in Islamabad took letters containing allegedly blasphemous statements to the local police. Although he had taken the letters from Mr Asghar a month before, he felt no need to report them until just days after Mr Asghar served him with an eviction notice.

Section 295-C of Pakistan's penal code permits the imposition of the death penalty for blasphemy. Both the principles of Sharia and Pakistan’s criminal law, however, make it clear that a mentally ill person cannot be given a death sentence.

After suffering a stroke in 2000 that affected both his mental and physical health, Mr Asghar was admitted to a psychiatric facility in Edinburgh in 2010.

While evidence proving  he was incompetent to stand trial was presented to the court, judges refused to acknowledge it.

Mr Asghar will have to wait years for any appeal against his patently unsafe conviction. The Pakistani and British authorities must work together to ensure that this flagrant miscarriage of justice is undone, and Mr Asghar’s human rights are respected.

Catherine Higham is a case worker on Reprieve’s death penalty team.