Two former Pakistani cricketers convicted of fixing part of a Test match against England have asked to be returned to their home country, to serve the remainder of their sentence.
The former Pakistan Test captain Salman Butt and the fast bowler Mohammad Asif have told their lawyers that they would prefer to be sent to a jail in Pakistan, because the attention they are receiving from fellow inmates is leading to fears for their safety. A High Court application is expected to be made within the next eight weeks.
The former international cricketers made the request to return to Pakistan after they were transferred this week from Wandsworth Prison in south London to Canterbury Prison in Kent, which specialises in holding foreign nationals convictedin Britain. Most inmates held at the category C prison are deported at the end of their sentences. Butt and Asif have told lawyers and close associates that they would prefer to be in a Pakistani jail.
The influential British Pakistani businessman Dalawar Chaudhry visited Asif this week. He said that the former pace bowler and Butt were sharing a cell and were reluctant to leave it, because of the undue attention they are receiving from fellow inmates.
Chaudhry said: "They are high-profile inmates who are worried about their safety. They only have each other in this country and are feeling quite vulnerable. Their families are very concerned for them. Both Asif and Butt have said that if they are going to be deported at the end of their sentences, which looks very likely, then they should be allowed to leave Britain as soon as possible and finish their sentence in a Pakistani jail."
Asif was jailed for one year and Butt for two-and-a-half years, for their involvement in a spot-fixing scandal in which they agreed to bowl pre-arranged no-balls in return for money during the Lord's Test against England in the summer of 2010.
The fast bowler Mohammad Amir was jailed for six months and the sports agent Mazhar Majeed received two years and eight months for his role in the conspiracy. Amir is in a young offenders institute and Majeedis in Ford open prison.
Lawyers representing Butt are considering an appeal against the length of his sentence, but not the verdict. None of the others is appealing. A legal source close to Butt said: "He wants to be returned to Pakistan as soon as possible but we will also be appealing against the severity of his sentence. We believe that it was unduly harsh."
The move by Asif and Butt to ask for a transfer to a Pakistani jail has been criticised by Chaudhry and other prominent members of the British Pakistani community. While conditions in Pakistani jails are notoriouslybad, high-profile inmates usually enjoy a comfortable existence and are often allowed to return home at night. There is a widespread feeling within Pakistan that the players are the victims of a conspiracy and public opinion is in their favour.
Chaudhry said: "I told Asif that going to a Pakistani jail to finish your sentence would look bad in Britain. Everybody knows that well known names in Pakistan are treated like VIPs in prison. We are trying to rebuild the reputation of Pakistan in Britain following this scandal and if these two return there to a heroes' reception and live comfortably in jail, then what message does that send out about Pakistan's attitude towards match fixing?"
Chaudhry gave an insight into the players lives. Last Monday they celebrated Eid in Wandsworth Prison and had a short game of cricket in their exercise time. While the two men could not get a bat from prison authorities, for fear that it could be used as weapon, they were given a tennis ball, allowing them to practice their bowling. Some fellow inmates acted as fielders.
Attendances at Friday's Islamic prayers have dramatically increased with the arrival of Asif and Butt.
Chaudhry said: "Everybody has wanted to meet them and the imams of Wandsworth and now Canterbury prisons have been amazed to see so many people at Friday prayers.
"The attention the players are getting has made them more nervous however as they don't know who to trust."