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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 July, 2003, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
Pakistan journalist appeals life term
Protests following the letter's publication
Protesters attacked the newspaper's offices and printing press
Lawyers for a journalist sentenced to life imprisonment by a Pakistan court, after being convicted of blasphemy, have filed an appeal against the verdict.

Munawar Mohsin, a sub-editor at the Frontier Post newspaper, was convicted of publishing a blasphemous letter that led to violent protests across the country.

The court ruling said: "The accused was responsible for the selection of the letter in question and subsequently he sent the same for the purpose of printing."

The verdict of the local court will now be appealed at a higher level.

Defence lawyer Kamran Arif told the BBC on Thursday they had challenged the local court's verdict on the grounds that it was based on Mohsin's confession.

But he said the accused never admitted to intentionally committing this mistake.

The court in its verdict on Tuesday had ruled that Mohsin had intentionally committed the mistake.

Colleagues acquitted

Two other defendants - former Frontier Post news editor Aftab Ahmad and computers chief Wajeehul Hassan - were acquitted.

The additional district and sessions judge in Peshawar, Sardar Irshad, said the prosecution had not proved the case against them.

An arrest warrant was issued against a fourth man, newspaper managing editor Mahmood Shah Afridi, who has absconded.

In addition to his jail term, Mohsin was fined 50,000 rupees ($865).

The letter was published on 29 January 2001.

It was written by a person named Ben DZec and appeared in the Your Views column of the newspaper.

Mob attack

The letter contained remarks about the Prophet Mohammed deemed derogatory.

But Reporters Without Borders have expressed outrage at what they say is an "extremely harsh" sentence.

The organisation's Secretary-General Robert Ménard said: "Because he printed something written by someone else does not necessarily mean he agreed with its content in any way. He simply gave readers space to express their opinions."

The day after the letter was printed, a violent mob attacked the offices of the newspaper, set the printing press on fire and damaged other public property, including a cinema.

The Frontier Post quickly carried large advertisements in national dailies apologising for publishing the letter and Mr Afridi also apologised.

However, publication of the newspaper was suspended for a few months after the incident.

Mohsin had been in detention since the publication of the letter.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan but no convict has ever been executed.

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