A mentally ill British pensioner who is facing execution for blasphemy was a well known philanthropist in his native Pakistan where he helped build an orphanage and a school and donated “thousands and thousands of pounds” to the country’s poor, his family said yesterday.
In an emotional plea “begging” David Cameron to personally intervene to save Mohammad Asghar, who is in hospital after narrowly surviving an assassination attempt by a member of an elite police commando unit whilst he slept in his cell in death row, his son said the millionaire grandfather was in jail because of his wealth – not for religious reasons.
“It’s all about money. That’s why my father is in prison,” said Tony Asghar who claimed that he had been threatened and told by his father’s enemies that if he tried to visit him in jail in Rawalpindi he too would be shot.
“I have had phone calls from there not to go and see him because there is a bullet with my name on it. My father is a very, very wealthy man over there he has property and everything. I have full power of attorney over his estate and that’s why no one wants me to go over there,” said Mr Asghar, 41.
Mr Asghar Snr’s daughter Jasmine Rana, 40, said her father had become a millionaire three times over creating a vast business empire after arriving in the UK as a teenager.
He owned 14 shops and two cash and carries in Birmingham as well as building a large portfolio of property. He also had extensive business interests in Pakistan including four brickyards.
But she said he preferred to give his money away and lived modestly spending his time with his family until he became ill.
“He opened a school in Lahore in Pakistan which provided free education for many children. He also opened an orphanage in Rawalpindi which cared for the neediest of children,” she said. The father of five and grandfather of nine also donated bricks from his yard to build homes for the poor in the city.
“My father is the sweetest and nicest person you will ever meet. He has always been hard working. He came to the country when he was 16. His dad was in the British Army and it was his dad that brought him over to Britain,” she added.
New concerns were also raised over Mr Asghar’s safety. He was shot on Thursday morning whilst lying on his bed in his cell. It followed repeated warnings that he was a target for hardline religious vigilantes following his conviction for blasphemy.
His family’s British lawyer Aamer Anwar said he was being treated in an “underfunded and derelict” public hospital which had already been identified in the local press. Despite a visible police presence visitors were still allowed access to the retired businessman’s room without undergoing security checks, he said.
The armed guard was also cause for concern in light of the fact his alleged attacker was a police officer.
Mr Anwar acknowledged it would take extreme personal courage for Pakistani politicians save Mr Asghar’s life. They face possible retaliation from fanatics if they speak out.
The pensioner is currently waiting to appeal against his conviction – a process which could take five years. At his trial defence counsel were not allowed to present medical evidence showing that he was suffering from severe delusions resulting from paranoid schizophrenia.
He was convicted after a local man with whom he was involved in a dispute reported the Briton to police for claiming to be the prophet.
A number of options remain open to return him to the UK including a prisoner transfer agreement with the Scottish government. Senior politicians including the Governor of the Punjab, former Glasgow Labour MP Mohammed Sarwar, also had the power to sign a suspension order on medical grounds, it was claimed.
“There is no safe haven for those accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. It is abhorrent that a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia faces the death sentence and is not safe from those paid to protect him. Mr Asghar must be released immediately,” Mr Anwar added.Reuse content