By Rebecca Gebauer
Special to ASSIST News Service
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND (ANS) -- A Scottish human rights organisation, Global Minorities Alliance, has expressed grave concern about the most recent events in context of Pakistan's controversial Blasphemy Laws.
Pakistani Christians protesting
Muhammad Ashgar, a 65-year-old British national of Pakistani origin, has been sentenced to death on Friday January 24, 2014 after being convicted of Blasphemy. Mr. Ashgar, who is from Edinburgh, Scotland, has been living in Pakistan for several years where he was looking after the family property.
Mr. Ashgar, who had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic in the UK, had been claiming to be a prophet. He wrote various letters to politicians and police officials introducing himself as a messenger of Allah - however it is said he actually never posted any of these letters.
In 2010 Mr. Ashgar was arrested in Sadiqabad after being reported by a tenant in his building who saw the letters. The complaint was filed after the man was given an eviction notice.
The BBC reports that Mr. Ashgar once tried to take his own life in jail but authorities refused to put him on suicide watch.
The trial was held in Adiala prison in Rawalpindi since hearing blasphemy cases in open courts poses a too high security risk.
The court rejected the defense's claim that Mr Ashgar suffered from mental health problems. Later during the trial Ashgars lawyers were replaced by appointed state lawyers on court orders. The state lawyers did not further emphasize the mental illness of Mr Ashgar.
According to the AFP news agency government prosecutor Javed Gul said: "Asghar claimed to be a prophet even inside the court. He confessed it in front of the judge"
Muhammad Ashgar was charged under section 295-C of the Pakistani Penal Code which states: "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."
His lawyers plan to appeal against the verdict but asked not to be mentioned by name in media in fear of extremist attacks.
Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws are widely misused to settle personal conflicts. Alone, the rumor of blasphemy, is enough to get the accused imprisoned with no chance for a fair trial. Especially minority members are often targeted.
The body of Sajjid Emmanuel after being killed by unknown gunmen
Should court find blasphemy accused innocent mob law takes place. In 2010 the Christian brothers Rahid Emmanuel and Sajjid Emmanuel were shot while leaving Civil Lines Police Station Faisalabad after no evidence was for blasphemy was found against them.
In August 2012 the minor aged Christian Rimsha Masih was accused of blasphemy after a local Muslim cleric placed burned pages of Quran in a garbage bag the girl was about to dispose. Though Ms. Masih was cleared from all charges in November 2012 she and her family had to go into hiding, and are now living in Canada, where they have been granted political asylum.
Pakistan has seen already more than 30 extremist attacks alone in 2014. Spiegel Online reports that the rate of suicide bombings has risen by 20% in 2013.
Islamists successfully create a climate of hatred in fear in Pakistan anyone who stands up against Blasphemy Laws and threatened by death.
Professor Anna Maslin, an author, outspoken advocate and expert on human rights, health and International development for 30 years while commenting on the recent death sentence over Pakistan controversial blasphemy laws said, "The death sentence on blasphemy laws must stop; sentencing someone to death because of one's religious beliefs and the imposition of your religion on others is totally wrong."
She further said, "We must tolerate and understand each other's faith and learn to live in respect and harmony. If someone follows a different faith does not mean he/she deserves a death. It is absolutely against human rights and we should condemn such incidents.
Ms. Maslin also called for the release for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five on death row, languishing in prison over blasphemy since 2009 who recently wrote a letter to appeal Pope Francis for help.
A second British national, 72-year-old Masood Ahmed, was jailed in November 2013 on blasphemy charges after he was secretly filmed reading the Quran.
Ahmad belongs to the minority Ahmadiyya group, considered to be heretics in Pakistan. In 1974 the Pakistan government declared Ahmadiyya as non-Muslim and have restricted religious practices, including a ban on quoting from the Quran.
In a statement to Global Minorities Alliance, Mr Ahmad's son, Abbas Ahmad, said: "My father has not made any mistakes or acted against the law. Anyone can listen to or read the Quran. He has never done anything wrong."
GMA's Chief Executive, Manassi Bernard said "Minorities are equal citizens of Pakistan and they should be respected and protected."
He went on to say, "We condemn the misuse of Blasphemy Laws as well as terrorist attacks like the most recent on Sunday in Peshawar where the extremists opened fire on the security guard in Peshawar Hindu Temple leaving one dead. All religions in the world preach peace and respect and their legislation should reflect this."
About Global Minorities Alliance:
Formed in 2012, the Global Minorities Alliance is a Glasgow-based human rights organisation, committed to raising the voice of minority communities around the world.
The Alliance works towards this commitment by campaigning for:
* Poverty alleviation
* Interfaith harmony
* Empowerment of women
* Reform of discriminatory laws
* Peaceful co-existence
As stated by the Alliance's Vice-Chairperson, Shahid Khan, on the Global Minorities Alliance website www.globalminorities.co.uk: "The absence of fairness, transparency, meritocracy and the rule of law in general in some countries leave minorities more vulnerable to abuse as the mighty and influential in these lawless lands take it as their birthright to mistreat minorities as they choose. In some parts of the world the integration of minorities into mainstream society is restricted by design due to the subjugation forced upon them.
"We call for an end to the systematic discrimination of minorities in any shape or form and urge the governments of such countries to push through reforms aimed at providing equal rights to the poor and the disadvantaged sections of their societies.
"No-one can choose where they are born or who they are born to. To be born into a minority community should not mean that you have to live a life where you suffer at the hands of your own countrymen.
"We say enough is enough and call upon the international community and like-minded organizations and individuals across the world to support us in our commitment to help the minority communities across the world."