Man sentenced to death under blasphemy law in Pakistan

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M Zulqernain

Lahore, Feb 2 (PTI) A Pakistani man was today awardeddeath sentence by a court in Punjab province after beingconvicted under the country''s controversial blasphemy law.

Muhammad Rafiq was sentenced to death by AdditionalDistrict and Sessions Judge Malik Riaz Ahmed in Bahawalpurcity, 400 km from Lahore.

Rafiq was convicted for committing blasphemy againstthe companions of Prophet Mohammed.

Rafiq, a resident of Jalalpur Peerwala, was alsoordered by the judge to pay a fine of Rs 200,000.

A case under the blasphemy law was registered againstRafiq in February last year.

Police official Chaudhry Safdar said Rafiq was caughtby local residents with a wooden slab around his neck that wasinscribed with blasphemous remarks about the ''Sahaba Ikrams''.

Safdar said Rafiq was shifted from a police station toBahawalpur prison as a mob wanted to lynch him.

The blasphemy law has been at the centre of a heateddebate since a court in Punjab sentenced Asia Bibi, aChristian woman, to death last year for allegedly committingblasphemy against Prophet Mohammed.

Last month, an imam and his son were sentenced to lifeimprisonment by another court in Punjab after being convictedon blasphemy charges.

Liberals and civil society activists have called forthe repeal or amendment of the blasphemy law, saying it ismisused to persecute religious minorities or to settlepersonal or political scores.

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated lastmonth by a police guard who said he was angered by thepolitician''s opposition to the blasphemy law.

Caving in to pressure from religious hardliners not tochange the law, the government has said it has no plans toamend the statute.

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