ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) - Human rights groups plan to appeal the death sentence of a doctor who has been convicted of blasphemy in this Islamic South Asian nation, rights activists said Monday.
On Saturday, Sheikh Mohammed Younus, 45, was given the death penalty for making insulting remarks about Islam's Prophet Mohammed. He also was fined 100,000 rupees (dlrs 1,500).
"We were expecting his acquittal," Khadim Hussain, an activist for the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told The Associated Press. An appeal to Pakistan's high court will likely be made Tuesday, Hussain said, adding the trial will probably take months.
In Islamic Pakistan, blasphemous remarks against Islam, the Quran--the Muslim Holy book--or the prophet carry the death penalty.
Younus would be the first person in Pakistan to be hanged for blasphemy by court order. Most people convicted by lower courts have been acquitted by higher courts, while others--mostly religious minorities--have been imprisoned.
Human rights groups say the blasphemy law is used mostly to victimize religious minorities and demand that Pakistan's military ruler, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, repeal it.
Musharraf announced last year he would amend the law, but was forced to backtrack following protests by hardline Islamic groups.
Younus, who like the majority of Pakistanis is a Sunni Muslim, was arrested last October after 11 of his students complained about a lecture he gave at a private homeopathic college in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
Lower court Judge Safdar Hussain Malik, in his ruling on Saturday, said Younus deserved to be hanged till death for making derogatory remarks about Mohammed.
Younus denies the charges and says his remarks about the prophet were quoted out of context by some of his students.
Among the charges, Younus allegedly told his students that Mohammed was not a Muslim until God gave him prophethood at the age of 40, that his parents were not Muslims and that his marriage at the age of 25 years was not according to Islamic law.
Inayat Ullah, another rights activist, said that Younus' family had refused to accept help from rights groups in the lower court proceedings, fearing that it would antagonize extremist clerics who are opposed to such organizations. "But after the death sentence they are worried and want us to help them," he said.
Many clerics accuse foreign-funded aid groups, especially those for women's education and rights, of working against Islamic religion, culture and traditions.
In many parts of Pakistan, hardline groups have threatened and attacked human rights workers, demanding that the government shut their offices. Hussain said he hopes that the high court will acquit Younus.
"The charges against him are flimsy. The human rights groups will fight to prove his case," he said.
If they succeed, however, Younus would still face potential danger from relgious zealots who have in the past killed those whom the courts have acquitted of blasphemy charges.