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Saturday, 18 August, 2001, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Pakistani sentenced to death for blasphemy
Students associated with the hardline Jamaat-e-Islami party riot over alleged blasphemy in Peshawar in January
Blasphemy excites strong emotions in Pakistan
By Susannah Price in Islamabad

A court in Pakistan has sentenced a medical lecturer, Dr Younus Shaikh, to death for blasphemy.

He had been accused of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammad by suggesting he did not become a Muslim until he was 40 years old and that his parents were not Muslims either.

The case was registered by a local Mullah, after a complaint by some students.

It has renewed the controversy about Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

Shock verdict

The guilty verdict and death sentence came as a shock to the supporters of Dr Younus, who had been expecting an acquittal.

The judge gave his verdict inside the prison where Dr Younus is being held, rather than in open court, to prevent any attack from religious extremists.

Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharraf
President Musharraf tried to change the law
He is accused of making the blasphemous remarks about the Prophet Mohammad during a lecture at the homeopathic college in Islamabad last year.

Some students complained to a religious leader, who lodged a complaint with the police, and Dr Younus was arrested.

The doctor had maintained his words were twisted and he could not conceive of saying anything blasphemous.

His lawyers say he will appeal.

Blasphemy law

According to human rights groups, Dr Younus is the third Muslim to be sentenced to death for blasphemy.

They have called for a change in the law, which stipulates the death sentence for those found guilty, although no one has yet been executed up till now.

Minority religious groups have complained that the blasphemy legislation is being used to persecute them.

Once a blasphemy charge is laid, police have to make an immediate arrest.

Last year the government did try to alter the law to allow for an inquiry before any arrest in an attempt to curb false blasphemy charges, but they pulled back under pressure from religious hardliners.

The BBC's Susannah Price in Islamabad
"The guilty verdict and death sentence came as a shock"
Dr Werner Minski, lecturer in South Asian law
"The law is clear"
See also:

19 May 01 | South Asia
Pakistan doctor on trial for blasphemy
10 Jan 01 | South Asia
Karachi police break up blasphemy rally
05 Aug 00 | South Asia
Pakistani 'prophet' sentenced to death
17 May 00 | South Asia
Pakistan's blasphemy law U-turn
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