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Free Mohammad Asghar: Family plea to Pakistan after safety of mentally-ill Scot compromised in transfer

THE 70-year-old retired businessman was sentenced to death for blasphemy despite being diagnosed as schizophrenic.

Mohammad Asghar

THE family of a mentally-ill Scot facing the death penalty in Pakistan voiced new fears for his safety yesterday after he was moved from a general hospital to a psychiatric unit.

Mohammad Asghar, a 70-year-old retired businessman sentenced to death for blasphemy despite being diagnosed as schizophrenic, had been moved to hospital from prison after being shot by a guard.

His family in Edinburgh have been campaigning for his release and for officials in Pakistan to recognise that he’s suffering from severe mental illness.

But they remain terrified for his safety after details of his transfer were made public by police in Pakistan.

The family insist that Mohammad, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in Scotland, has been needlessly exposed to further vigilante attacks just three weeks after the jail shooting.

His daughter Jasmine Rana, of Edinburgh, said: “I’ve felt sick since I heard the news. I’m absolutely disgusted.

“We want my dad to receive psychiatric help because he has paranoid schizophrenia but his safety was supposed to be top priority.

“He’s already been shot by a policeman who was supposed to be guarding him. Now it seems a police superintendent has put this new information out there.

“This just makes it more urgent that we get him home to Scotland. He is not safe anywhere in Pakistan.”

Mohammad’s family and legal representatives were told the news as hey travelled to London last week to meet with a Foreign Office minister and press the case for top level intervention.

Asghar Petition tops 70,000

They also delivered a 70,000 signature petition to Downing Street calling on the Prime Minister to personally step in to secure Mohammad’s release.

Jasmine even slipped a handwritten plea to David Cameron into the box before handing the petition in to No.10.

She wrote: “Mr Cameron, please help bring my father home. Please listen to everyone that has signed this petition.” She signed it with a heart. Jasmine had hoped Cameron might be there himself to receive the documents but he was attending a summit in Milan.

She said: “It was disappointing to be handing the petition to a policeman instead of David Cameron.

“I know he’s a busy man but part of me had thought that he might just make the time for us.

“We’re desperate now, especially since my dad has been moved, and it’s going to take the Prime Minister’s influence to make a difference.”

Father-of-five Mohammad, sentenced to death for blasphemy in the province of Punjab, has been in jail for four years despite lawyers lodging evidence of his mental illness.

Blasphemy is such a highly-charged accusation in Pakistan that fanatical vigilantes often target those accused.

Last month, a police guard, who was supposed to be protecting Mohammad, burst into his cell in tough Adiala jail, Rawalpindi, and shot him in the back.

The family’s lawyer, Glasgow-based Aamer Anwar, who has been working with solicitors on the ground in Pakistan, said leaking Mohammad’s transfer means immediate action is essential. If they can’t protect him in a prison do they really think they can protect him in hospital?

NDPAJasmine Rana who's father, Mohammad Asgar, is on death row in Pakistan takes her case to the Foreign Office with a petition to Downing Street.
Jasmine Rana with Lawyer Aamer Anwar takes her case to the Foreign Office with a petition to Downing Street and press conference outside

“We thought it would be a small step forward, that at least he wasn’t being moved back to the same jail where he’d been attacked, which had seemed likely.

“But there can be no relief when officers are busy giving out information about him which jeopardise his safety. At the end of the day he’s a British citizen and a sick, old man who just needs to be brought home. And it needs to happen now. This man’s life is on the line.”

After we featured Mohammad’s story in last week’s paper, more than 11,000 people added their names to the online petition organised by human rights group Reprieve, who have been campaigning for his release.

And within hours of Jasmine delivering the petition to Downing Street, 6000 of the signatories had sent emails to Cameron calling upon him to use his direct influence with the Pakistani government to secure the Scot’s immediate release.

Mum-of-four Jasmine, 41, met seven representatives of the UK government, including junior Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood, at a private meeting in Westminster on Friday.

She was given assurances that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was working hard on Mohammad’s behalf.

But Jasmine and her legal team are now desperate for action, not words.

Kate Higham, of Reprieve, said there was no longer any time for delays.

She said: “We really hope the Prime Minister will intervene. We hope our concerns have been taken on board, particularly on Mr Asghar’s mental illness. That has to happen quickly as the first step to resolution.”

Jasmine added: “I’m so grateful for everyone who signed the petition. It’s overwhelming to think that 70,000 people showed their support for my dad.

“But I’ve come home from London still thinking, ‘I wish he was back.’ We still have no idea if and when that’s going to happen.

“It’s a horrible feeling but if it’s bad for us, how much worse is it for my dad?”

Help save Mohammad

Today, the Sunday Mail urges our readers to write to David Cameron and demand that he intervenes personally to have Mohammad released.

The anti-death penalty charity Reprieve have set up a link on the 38 Degrees site where people can email the Prime Minister with their concerns about the issue.

Kate Higham, who is leading Reprieve’s work on the case, said: “Mohammad Asghar is an elderly man in extremely poor mental health. He should never have been sentenced in the first place and it’s now clear that his life is in grave danger while he remains in Pakistan.

The British Government must redouble efforts to ensure he is kept in hospital and protected from further attacks before securing his release.”