Mohammed Asghar case: Hopes rise that mentally ill British pensioner may escape death sentence in Pakistan

 

Hopes are rising that a blasphemy death sentence imposed on a mentally ill British pensioner could be overturned on appeal, after the Pakistan High Commission said the case was being “thoroughly investigated so an innocent person does not become victim of misplaced judicial process”.

In a remarkably candid statement distancing itself from the ruling, a commission spokesman said: “The government of Pakistan believes in the policy as dictated by Islam that it is better to acquit one hundred guilty in order to avoid punishment to one innocent person.”

International pressure has been mounting for the release of Mohammed Asghar, 69, who was convicted of blasphemy after claiming he was the Prophet Mohammed, despite suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Blasphemy carries a death sentence in Pakistan.

His family spoke for the first time on Monday to urge the British Government to intervene and help bring him home for psychiatric treatment.

The Pakistan High Commission in London said it had received “messages of concern” from UK residents and politicians, including senior Foreign Office minister, Baroness Saeeda Warsi.

In a conciliatory statement on Monday night, it said: “Pakistan High Commission wishes to inform all concerned that the claim that Mohammed Asghar was a mental case was perhaps not brought out in the proceedings of the case. Obviously in that state of mind his conduct in the court must have been responsible for the sentence.

“While the matter is being investigated, Pakistan High Commission hopes that in his appeal before higher appellate court, Mohammad Asghar’s lawyers would be able to forcefully plead his case of mental condition on the basis of his previous history in UK. It is also hoped that justice would be done on the grounds of his mental infirmity.”

Earlier in the day Mr Asghar’s family, who live in Edinburgh, say that they are growing increasingly desperate over his plight.

“We are really upset and concerned that they will never release him and that he will die in jail. He has already attempted suicide unsuccessfully,” they said. “We just want him back home where hopefully he can be treated for and recover from his mental illness. We urge the British Government to intervene and bring him home to us where he will be safe.”

Inhuman penalty: The Government must act to bring Muhammad Asghar home  

Despite the signs of progress, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, was under increased pressure to try and secure his release on compassionate grounds.

The shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, wrote to him on Monday asking that he make immediate representations to Pakistan’s Government on the case.

Baroness Warsi said she was “deeply concerned” by the case, adding: “I am personally raising this in the strongest possible terms with the Pakistani government as are officials here and in Islamabad.”

Independent lawyers acting for Mr Asghar say they are continuing to be denied access to the frail retired shopkeeper.

His legal team say Mr Asghar’s constitutional rights are continuing to be flouted by the prison authorities following the trial in Rawalpindi during which the judge ordered his lawyers to be replaced by a state counsel.

The nature of his condition means he is unaware that he is mentally ill, according to a leading Scottish psychiatrist whose evidence was not submitted during the trial.

Lawyers fear they will not be able to see him in prison until it is too late to get him to sign a secondary power of attorney and lodge an appeal. Under Pakistan law this must be lodged with the court seven days after conviction.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada