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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 19:04 GMT 20:04 UK
Pakistani appeals over death sentence
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

Lawyers in Pakistan working on behalf of a doctor condemned to death for blasphemy say they have lodged an appeal against the judgement.

International human rights organisations have said that the doctor, Younus Shaikh, did not receive a fair trial and have called for his release.

Dr Younus was sentenced to death on Saturday after being found guilty of telling his students that the Prophet Mohammed didn't become a Muslim until he was 40 years old and that his parents were not Muslims either.

The appeal could take up to six months to be heard.

Dr Younus's lawyer said it was a weak case and he was sure that the High Court would reverse the judgement.

Students complained

The blasphemy laws of Pakistan are a handy tool to silence debate and dissent - they should be abolished or amended

Amnesty International
The remarks were allegedly made during a lecture at a medical college in Islamabad.

Dr Younus was arrested in October after students complained to a local mullah, and was held in solitary confinement.

Dr Younus said he never made the remarks and claimed he was being victimized.

He is the third Muslim to be condemned to death under the blasphemy laws, although no one has been executed.

The human rights group Amnesty International has adopted him as a Prisoner of Conscience and called for his immediate release.

The group has repeated its call for Pakistan's blasphemy laws to be abolished.

A statement read: "The charges were maliciously brought, the allegations did not establish blasphemy and the trial which led to the conviction on such grounds could not have been fair.

"The blasphemy laws of Pakistan are a handy tool to silence debate and dissent. They are also used to detain people when the real motivation includes land issues or professional rivalry. In the interest of justice, the blasphemy laws should be abolished or as a first step amended to prevent abuse."

Cases increase

Once a person has been accused of blasphemy, the police have to carry out an arrest without preliminary investigations.

Activists in Pakistan say there has been a steep rise in the number of blasphemy cases in the past year.

Even though many of those convicted are acquitted on appeal, they are still subsequently targeted by extremist groups.

Judges involved in such cases are also at risk, and there are calls for the government to provide more security to ensure they can act independently.

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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