Pakistan urged to free British grandfather on death row

Feb 20, 2014

Concern raised for mentally ill pensioner convicted of blasphemy over Prophet Mohammed claims

THE president of Pakistan, Mamnoon Hussain, has been urged by UK politicians and campaigners to release a mentally ill Scottish pensioner from death row on humanitarian grounds.

Mohammad Asghar, a 70-year-old grandfather, was sentenced to death for blasphemy last month after he allegedly claimed to be the Prophet Mohammed.

In an open letter, published by The Independent today, a group of campaigners and academics, including shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, called for Asghar to be released from prison so he can resume treatment for paranoid schizophrenia and be reunited with his family.

While no one has been executed in Pakistan since a moratorium on the death penalty in 2008, the letter raises concerns about Asghar's deteriorating health. He is said to be physically weak as the result of a stroke which triggered his mental illness. It is also feared he might take his own life or be attacked by fellow inmates who target blasphemers.

Independent observers described him as "pale, dehydrated, shaking and barely lucid", while his lawyers said he was sharing a cell with a number of other men and not receiving appropriate treatment.

Asghar, who lived in Scotland for 40 years, was said to have been a "successful businessman and pillar of the community". He was detained under the Mental Health Act in 2010 shortly before travelling to Pakistan, where he became embroiled in a property dispute with a local man. This man later went to the police with letters written, but never sent, by Asghar, in which he claimed to be the Prophet Mohammed.

An affidavit provided by Dr Jane McLennan, a leading Scottish expert in geriatric mental illness, confirmed that Asghar's behaviour was a symptom of his psychiatric disorder. She said that Asghar requires urgent medical, psychological and social intervention to help him recover.

The Foreign Office has said it is dedicated to preventing the execution of UK nationals and will continue to make representations to the Pakistan government on behalf of Asghar.

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