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Pakistani Sentenced To Death For Blasphemy May Appeal

ISLAMABAD -- Lawyers and police officers in northwestern Pakistan say a man sentenced to death this week for blasphemy may still challenge his conviction.

Police identified the man as Hazrat Ali Shah, said to be 23 or 24 years old.

He was convicted on November 14 by a court in the remote Chitral district in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

“It is his right to appeal his conviction in the High Court. That court will look into the allegations, evidence and testimonies against him," Sher Muhammad Khan, a lawyer and head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan NGO in the province, said. "Two judges on a High Court [tribunal] have to hear such a case. That process can determine validity of charges against him.”

Remote Region

Khan said that details of the case are sketchy because of the remoteness of the region and a lack of media coverage.

He told RFE/RL that the Shah’s conviction on charges of insulting the Prophet Muhammad was the first such conviction in the province.

“According to the media reports, many people from his village testified against him," Khan said. "It is said that even his parents distanced themselves from him and cut off all contacts with him. All these people then testified against him in the court, which then sentenced him.”

Syed Zamurd Shah, the district and session judge in Chitral, told AFP that a local court had sentenced Shah to death and 10 years in jail.

Attiqur Rehaman, a police official from the Kughuzi region of Chitral, said Shah was arrested in his precinct in March 2011. He told RFE/RL that subsequent investigations confirmed Shah’s mental fitness to stand trial.

He said that while Shah could appeal the conviction, neither his lawyer nor the local courts had informed police of any such appeal.

Infrequent Event

Shah’s conviction is the first death sentence in a blasphemy case since a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was condemned to death in 2010.

She remains in prison as an appeal against her sentence goes through the courts.

Her case brought international criticism of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which were introduced in the 1980s by former military dictator Zaiul Haq.

No one has been punished under those laws, with most of the convictions so far overturned on appeal.

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.

With additional reporting by dpa and AFP
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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