THE lawyer representing a mentally-ill British grandfather on death row has said his family is becoming increasingly desperate at the lack of action to free him.
Last night, Aamer Anwar, lawyer for Mohammad Asghar, a grandfather from Edinburgh, sentenced to death in Pakistan last January after being convicted of blasphemy for writing letters signing himself the Prophet Mohammed, said the family was suffering “extreme anguish” at the situation.
“The problem is that we seemed to have reached an impasse despite high-level discussions and proof being provided”
Four months before Mr Asghar’s arrest in Rawalpindi in September 2010, the pensioner was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Edinburgh. Despite the diagnosis, the Pakistani court ruled Mr Asghar, a British national, was sane.
His appeal was pending before the Lahore High Court at the end of the year and he remained in hospital at that stage.
Mr Anwar believes his client is at risk of being killed if returned to prison because of the blasphemy charge.
Yesterday, Amnesty International featured Mr Asghar’s case in a new report revealing more than 19,000 people are on death row worldwide.
Mr Anwar said: “Mr Asghar’s family is becoming increasingly desperate and frustrated. It has now been over a year since he was sentenced to death and all this time has passed with discussions going on involving the prime ministers of both countries and officials behind the scenes.
“The authorities know that this is a severely mentally-ill man whose case should never have gone through the court process. The moratorium on executions was lifted in Pakistan last month and that is a source of real concern. It is a shocking state of affairs. We know the authorities are well aware of Mr Asghar’s mental illness which proves he should never stand trial.
“The problem is that we seemed to have reached an impasse despite high-level discussions and proof being provided.”
There have been intense fears for Mr Asghar’s safety and repeated calls for him to be freed since he was shot and wounded by a guard at the Rawalpindi prison where he was being held in September last year.
The Amnesty report concluded that Mr Asghar, who is in his 70s, was one of at least 19,094 people under a death sentence by the end of 2014.
There was a 28 per cent increase in the number of death sentences last year compared to the previous year, the campain group said.
Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, said: “In a year when abhorrent summary executions by armed groups were branded on the global consciousness like never before, it is appalling that governments are themselves resorting to more executions in a knee-jerk reaction to combat terrorism and crime.
“It is shameful that so many states around the world are essentially playing with people’s lives – putting people to death for ‘terrorism’ or to quell internal instability on the ill-conceived premise of deterrence.”
Another Briton on death row is Cheltenham grandmother Lindsay Sandiford, who is in jail under a death sentence in Indonesia following a 2013 drug trafficking conviction over cocaine found in the lining of her suitcase.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS