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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing