Pakistan: bishop calls for repeal of death sentence for blasphemy

 The Catholic Bishop of Pakistan has called for the repeal of the death sentence for blasphemy, after a Christian man was sentenced to hang for claiming to be Jesus Christ. Bishop Samuel Azariah said he knew the convicted man and believed he should have been given medical treatment. Anwar Kenneth, is alleged to have written hundreds of letters claiming to be a reincarnation of Jesus Christ, and making sacrilegious remarks about Islam. He pleaded guilty to the charges, and refused to accept the help of a lawyer to defend him. Social workers and human rights groups have said Anwar Kenneth had a history of psychiatric problems, and should have been examined by doctors before standing trial. There is still hope for Mr Kenneth. His death sentence still has to be ratified by a higher court. So far, there has been no instance of a Pakistani court upholding the death sentence for blasphemy and carrying it out. Campaigners have repeatedly called for the repeal of blasphemy laws as they say many cases are based on personal rivalry, and have sparked mob violence. Two weeks ago, a Muslim man was stoned to death by hundreds of villagers, after being acquitted of blasphemy because he was mentally ill. Last month, a former army officer sentenced to death for claiming to be a prophet was shot dead in jail by a fellow inmate while his appeal was pending. The sentence was introduced in 1985 by the military ruler, General Zia-ul Haq.

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