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Saturday, 5 August, 2000, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Pakistani 'prophet' sentenced to death
Islamic students at a religious school
Islamic groups accused Mr Ali of being an impostor
By Zaffar Abbas in Karachi

A court in the Pakistan city of Lahore has sentenced to death a Muslim spiritual leader on charges of blasphemy.

Sixty-year-old Mohammed Yusuf Ali was found guilty under the controversial blasphemy law for misguiding Muslims by presenting himself as a prophet of Islam.

He has a right to appeal in the High Court.

Mohammed Yusuf Ali has been at the centre of a religious controversy in Pakistan for the last few years.

A former army officer, Mr Ali was a cult figure for his followers, who thought he had unique spiritual powers.

General Musharraf:
General Musharraf was forced to back down
But many Islamic groups described him as an imposter who they said was working against the teachings of Islam.

He was arrested about three years ago after a private complaint.

'Irrefutable evidence'

During the trial that lasted for more than a year, Mr Ali consistently denied the charges.

The judge however declared in his verdict that there was irrefutable evidence that he had tried to present himself as a prophet of Islam and under the country's blasphemy law, sentenced him to death.

He is perhaps the first Muslim in the country to have been given the death sentence under the blasphemy law, which human rights groups say has often been misused against the religious minorities.

Earlier this year, the military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, changed the legal procedure to discourage the misuse of the blasphemy law.

But following pressure from the Islamic group, he soon took back the decision.

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See also:

16 Jun 00 | South Asia
Musharraf seeks greater tolerance
17 May 00 | South Asia
Pakistan's blasphemy law U-turn
15 Mar 00 | South Asia
Pakistani rights abuse 'widespread'
09 Sep 98 | South Asia
Pakistan blasphemy death sentence
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