Asghar’s plight sets a test of UK’s passport promise

Jasmine Rana, the daughter of Mohammad Asghar, at a press conference in Glasgow. Picture: PA
Jasmine Rana, the daughter of Mohammad Asghar, at a press conference in Glasgow. Picture: PA
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IN THE recent referendum, the voters decided various matters. One was that Scotland’s foreign policy would, for now, be conducted from Westminster. Equally, when a Scot finds himself in trouble abroad, it will be the Foreign Office which must ensure adherence to the promise made on the inside cover of our passports: “Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State Requests and Requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to…afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”

There surely could be few people in the world who need the British government to stand by this promise more than Mohammed Asghar. When he was in Edinburgh, Mohammed, who is 70 years old and frail, was sectioned. He suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. Upon his release, he traveled to Pakistan where, it is alleged, he said he was God’s prophet. If he did, it was surely a product of his mental illness.

Since 2010, he has been facing execution for this offence, held in a prison touted by the Pakistan government as perhaps their most secure. Despite this, last Thursday a guard allegedly tried to murder Mohammed. As Mohammed was taken to hospital, the guard – barely restrained – managed to kick him and repeated his intention to “kill a blasphemer”. The Pakistan prison authorities then told the newspapers where Mohammed was being treated. Bizarrely, a small minority of Pakistan publications praised the attempted murder and issued overt threats to anyone who might stand up for Mohammed.

If the government allows Julian Assange asylum from persecution in the Ecuadorian embassy, then surely the same government can grant Mohammed Asghar asylum in the British High Commission in Islamabad? If Mohammed has already been subjected to one attempted execution at the hands of a Pakistan prison official, then surely it is not unreasonable to demand that he not be placed in jeopardy a second time?

If it were my family member quaking in his prison cell in Pakistan, I would want my government to expend every last effort to secure their safety and liberty. The plight of Mohammed Asghar is a test of whether anyone should depend on that promise made in our passports.

• Charlie Reid is one half of Scottish band The Proclaimers

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