Pakistan court sentences man to death for blasphemy

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A Pakistani court has condemned a man to death for blasphemy, believed to be the first such sentence given under the country's tough laws against insulting Islam since a Christian woman in 2010.

Hazrat Ali Shah, 25, was convicted of blaspheming against the Muslim Prophet Mohammed and the Koran during a quarrel in his village in northern Pakistan in March 2011.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population are Muslims, and under the country's penal code insulting the Prophet Mohammed can be punished by death.

"The additional session judge Azar Khan has passed a sentence on him (Shah) of capital punishment and imprisonment for 10 years under the charges of blasphemy," Syed Zamurd Shah, the district and session judge in the northern city of Chitral, told AFP.

He said that the sentence was announced on Wednesday after people from the village gave evidence against Shah.

The death penalty was added to the blasphemy law under Islamist military dictator General Zia-ul Haq in 1986 but as yet no-one has been executed for the crime.

In November 2010 an international outcry erupted after a Pakistani court sentenced a Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi, to death after Muslim women claimed she made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed.

Bibi is still in prison while an appeal against her sentence goes through the courts.

There was further international outcry around the world about the laws in August, when a 14-year-old Christian girl was charged and held in prison for three weeks after being accused of burning pages containing verses from the Koran.

Rights activists have urged Pakistan to repeal the legislation, arguing it is often used to settle personal disputes. The issue is so sensitive that even unproven allegations can provoke a violent public response.