Pakistan court convicts imam and his son for blasphemy

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M Zulqernain

Lahore, Jan 11 (PTI) A Pakistani court has sentencedan imam and his son to life imprisonment after convicting themon controversial blasphemy charges, officials said today.

Less than a week after Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseerwas gunned down by a police guard for criticizing theblasphemy law, Judge Rao Ayub of an anti-terrorism court atDera Ghazi Khan in Punjab handed down the sentences to 45-year-old Mohammad Shafi and his son Mohammad Aslam, 20, yesterday.

Shafi, who is the imam of a mosque at Muzaffargarh,400 km from Lahore, and his son were arrested in April lastyear for removing a poster for a religious gathering that waspasted outside their grocery shop.

The poster reportedly featured Quranic verses,officials said.

The organizers of the gathering, which commemoratedthe anniversary of Prophet Mohammed''s birth, filed a complaintthat alleged the duo had tore the poster and trampled withtheir feet.

After convicting the duo for blasphemy, Judge Ayubhanded down two separate prison terms of five years and 10years to Shafi and Aslam and ordered them to pay finestotaling Rs 210,000 each.

The defence counsel said the verdict would bechallenged in the Lahore High Court.

Reports said the duo had been accused of blasphemy dueto differences between the Deobandi and Barelvi sects.

Shafi had differences with Haji Phool Mohammad, a manfrom the Barelvi school of thought who filed the complaintagainst the imam and his son.

Taseer had earned the ire of religious hardlinersafter he spoke in the defence of Asia Bibi, a Christian womansentenced to death under the blasphemy law last year, andcalled for reforms in the law to prevent its misuse.

Rights activists have alleged that the law is oftenmisused to persecute minorities and to settle personal orpolitical scores.

The blasphemy law, which was introduced during theregime of late military ruler Zia-ul-Haq, carries the deathpenalty for the worst offences.

No one convicted under the blasphemy law has beenexecuted in Pakistan though dozens of people accused ofblasphemy have been killed by radical elements.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has said hisgovernment has no plan to amend the law.

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