Mohammad Asghar case: Overcrowded and violent, Adiala jail is now 70-year-old Briton’s home

Prison holds 60 terror suspects and eight ‘blasphemers’

Rawalpindi

The Adiala jail has long been home to some of Pakistan’s best-known prisoners. Former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani spent five years here, on politically slanted charges, during General Pervez Musharraf’s military rule.

Now, it is also where a 70-year-old Briton with a history of poor mental health is being held after being convicted of blasphemy, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of the death sentence.

Mohammad Asghar, who is from Edinburgh, is being held in small cell by himself, police officials at Adiala jail told The Independent during a visit to the jail on Tuesday.

“He is fine,” insisted Arshad Warraich, the deputy superintendent at the jail. “There is a cell to the right of him and a cell to the left of him. They can hear each other and talk to each other. During the day, they take walks together in the lawn in front.”

The Adiala jail lies in Rawalpindi, the garrison town famous for being the home of Pakistan’s army headquarters, along a quiet main road. It is fortified by high walls that have barbed wire curling across the top. Snipers lurk from turrets inside.

Throughout the day, blue vans screech into the prison gates carrying crammed prisoners who eventually limp out of the vehicle and shuffle into a queue of new arrivals. Their hands and feet are manacled.

The Independent was denied a meeting with Mr Asghar, who is accused of writing letters where he declared himself a prophet. “Only blood relatives and lawyers can meet with him,” said Mr Warraich.

At one of the gates, people slip out after a brief visit. “Today, they are allowing people to see those guilty of social crimes,” said a labourer who had come to visit a cousin. “Tomorrow, it’s the day for dangerous criminals. The day after, it’s the day for women.”

Prison visits are rowdy affairs. The visitors have to run through a series of bureaucratic hurdles before they are ushered into a hall. There are scores of prisoners and often a larger group of visitors divided by a thin grille, with people struggling to be heard over the din.

Mr Ashgar is one of six Britons imprisoned at Adiala. “The others are in here for drugs and murder,” said another police official. He is one of at least eight prisoners held on blasphemy charges.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, human rights groups say, are prejudicial and often used as an instrument of coercion. First introduced in British India, they have steadily acquired clauses that have often been used to persecute religious minorities.

The laws are considered especially dangerous because all that is required is an accusation. Fearing a backlash, the police take the accused into custody before caving into pressure and prosecuting them. Few judges dare declare the accused innocent.

While no one in Pakistan has been executed for blasphemy, two judges have been killed for acquitting those accused of blasphemy. Vigilantes have killed 30 other people on the mere suspicion of having blasphemed.

The jail officials declined to comment on Mr Asghar’s case. “It’s a very sensitive matter, and we have nothing to do with the case itself,” said Mr Warraich. “We are merely the custodians here. We do what the judicial authorities ask.”

Adiala is one of Pakistan’s largest jails, with over 4,000 prisoners being held there. It also has a history with controversies surrounding blasphemy. In 2012, a teenage girl named Rimsha Masih was held here, before a global outcry triggered her release.

One of the most high profile prisoners is Mumtaz Qadri, the police bodyguard who in 2011 killed Salmaan Taseer, the then governor of Punjab and the man he was supposed to be protecting. Qadri claimed that Mr Taseer had committed blasphemy by rising to the defence of a Christian woman convicted of spurious blasphemy charges.

Every few months, a shopkeeper across the road said, Qadri supporters gathers outside the jail to clamour for his release. They were last here on 4 January, the anniversary of Mr Taseer’s murder.

Each morning, the convicted prisoners are taken to a nearby factory. Over there, they are forced to weave carpets and carry out other tasks and menial work. In the jail’s courtyard, some prisoners dressed in dusty brown shalwar kameez pave a road.

No mobile phones can be used at the jail as powerful jammers are in operation, cutting out any signal. These are measures that police officials have been forced to take after discovering terrorist group leaders continued to orchestrate attacks from their cells.

There are some 60 terrorist suspects, including those still on trial and those convicted, being held at Adiala. Prison officials say that they struggle to cope with the numbers, in some cases housing 60 prisoners in a single room.

Pakistan’s prisons are also notoriously dangerous places. Both the prison officials and inmates are guilty of acts of grievous violence. Officials at Adiala concede that fights often break out, and prisoners have to be separated.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
videoJapanese prepare for the afterlife by testing out coffins
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford attends Blade Runner at Target Presents AFI's Night at the Movies at ArcLight Cinemas on 24 April, 2013 in Hollywood, California
film... but Ridley Scott won't direct
Sport
Hughes is hit by a bouncer from Sean Abbott
cricketStephen Brenkley on batsman's tragic flaw that led to critical injury
Sport
Dejected England players applaud the fans following their team's 3-0 defeat
football

Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Multi-skilled graphic designer ...

Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solicitor

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solic...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Supervisor / Housewares / Furniture

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital