Evangelical Alliance calls for UK to pressure Pakistan in blasphemy case

AP
Blasphemy is a crime punishable by death in Pakistan

The Evangelical Alliance is pleading with the UK government to intercede in the case of a 69-year-old Scotsman who has been convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan.

Mohammad Asghar, from Edinburgh, was sentenced to death after being convicted of blasphemy by Pakistan's Federal Shariat Court (FSC).

The Pakistani government has until 4 February to decide whether to implement or appeal against the sentence.

Mr Asghar was convicted of blasphemy after sending letters to officials in which he claimed to be the Prophet Mohammed.

His lawyer has pointed out that he suffers from mental illness, and that he was previously treated for paranoid schizophrenia in Edinburgh before returning to Pakistan in 2010.

Fred Drummond, the director of the Evangelical Alliance Scotland, is urging the Pakistani authorities to appeal the sentence.

Mr Drummond said: "It is irrelevant whether Mr Asghar is a Christian or not. What is relevant is concern over the misuse of the law which has been raised by numerous people including Pakistani politicians.

"Alongside the Church of Scotland and several human rights groups, including Amnesty International, we join the call for this blasphemy law to be rescinded."

"The Alliance and its partners have consistently spoken out against the law which is being used to persecute Muslims, Christians and those of other minority religions in the country."

Manoj Raithatha, National Coordinator for the South Asian forum of the Evangelical Alliance, said: "Every human life is sacred and a gift from God and so to be implementing this violates the basic human right to life and freedom of religion and speech."

The Church of Scotland has recently written letters appealing to British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Scotland's Minister for External Affairs and International Development Humza Yousaf, and the High Commissioner of Pakistan Wajid Shamsul Hassan, on the issue of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

Specifically, they were asked by the Church to lobby that the Pakistani government reject a change to the penal code that will mean an automatic death sentence for those convicted of blasphemy.  Until now, there had also been the option of life imprisonment.

The British High Commission in Islamabad has said it is aware of Mr Asghar's case and has provided assistance to him.

A Scottish government spokesman quoted by BBC News said: "We're concerned about this case and can confirm that we have been in touch with the FCO who will keep us informed of the situation."

"The Scottish government strongly opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. As a minimum we would urge the Pakistani authorities to abide by the moratorium they have on the death penalty."

"Our thoughts are with Mr Asghar's family at this difficult time."

Prime Minister David Cameron said in Parliament on Wednesday that he was "deeply concerned" and that the UK was taking the case "very seriously".

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