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Wednesday, September 9, 1998 Published at 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK

World: South Asia

Pakistan blasphemy death sentence

Christians have demonstrated against Pakistan's blasphemy laws

From Islamabad, Owen Bennett-Jones reports:

A Pakistani Muslim has been sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Ghulam Akbar, 24, was accused of an act of verbal sacrilege of the Prophet Mohammed.

Christian groups and human-rights activists have long campaigned against Pakistan's blasphemy legislation but this the first time the law has been used to convict a Muslim.

He was first arrested in 1995.

Police say he was working as a waiter in a restaurant when some people heard him insult the name of the Prophet Mohammed.

They immediately handed him over to the authorities and his case has now resulted in a death sentence.

Previous sentences overturned

The precise details of his offence are not in the public domain in Pakistan because under Pakistani law, to repeat his words could, in itself, be a legal offence.

Previously, when death sentences have been handed down in blasphemy cases they have been overturned by the High Court, and it is possible that the same may happen in this case.

[ image: John Joseph: Killed himself in protest against blasphemy laws]
John Joseph: Killed himself in protest against blasphemy laws
The Pakistani Human Rights Commission has said that if approached, it would provide a lawyer to defend Ghulam Akbar.

This is the first occasion on which a Muslim has been sentenced under the blasphemy law. Previously, the legislation has been used to convict Christians, and Christian leaders say there are currently three Christians in prison awaiting blasphemy trials.

The whole issue of the blasphemy law rose to prominence in May this year, when the Catholic bishop of Faisalabad, John Joseph, committed suicide to protest against the legislation.

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