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Pakistan court sentences man to death for claiming to be a prophet

A court in Pakistan on Thursday sentenced 65-year old Mohammed Asghar to death for blasphemy, convicting him of writing letters claiming to be a prophet. Asghar was convicted [Al Jazeera report] under Section 295-C of the Pakistani Penal Code [text, PDF], making it illegal to make derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed. He received the maximum sentence after confessing to writing the letters. Justice Pakistan Project [advocacy website] argued Asghar suffered from a mental illness, but the court rejected this claim, despite him reportedly being treated for paranoid schizophrenia. It is unlikely Asghar's death sentence will be carried out, given Pakistan's unofficial moratorium on the death penalty that has been in effect since 2008.

Blasphemy laws [JURIST news archive] are currently in effect in several countries around the world. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan carry penalties [JURIST report] ranging from a fine to capital punishment. In November Ireland's constitutional convention recommended [JURIST report] replacing the blasphemy ban. In August a Pakistan court dismissed [JURIST report] charges against a cleric in a blasphemy case. In August 2012 Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said that the country's blasphemy laws would not be misused to persecute religious beliefs. Zardari's comments came after the young girl's arrest. In July the US Department of State released [JURIST report] its annual International Religious Freedom Report, documenting threats to religious freedom throughout the world. The report documents current international threats to religious freedom, particularly laws that punish religious traditions and blasphemy laws that are often used to punish religious tolerance.

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