FIRST Minister Alex Salmond has said he is “extremely concerned” for the welfare of a mentally ill Scot on death row in Pakistan.
Mr Salmond yesterday met the daughter of Mohammad Asghar, a 70-year-old grandfather who was sentenced to death in January for blasphemy after his arrest in 2010 for sending a series of letters in which he claimed to be the prophet Muhammad.
The First Minister intends to raise the case with Prime Minister David Cameron, after Mr Asghar was shot by a guard at the Adiala jail in Rawalpindi last month.
His comments came as the human rights charity Reprieve accused the authorities in Pakistan of attempting to suppress details of an official investigation into the shooting. Reprieve said the government in Punjab had refused requests by Mr Asghar’s lawyers to see the results of an investigation into the attack, as well as medical assessments carried out since the incident.
Following a meeting with Mr Asghar’s daughter, Jasmine Rana, at Bute House, the First Minister said: “I am extremely concerned about the welfare of Mr Asghar. This is a situation which has been ongoing for many months and is causing considerable distress to his family. The Scottish Government will continue to do whatever can be done to support the wishes of the family and assist with the security and wellbeing of Mr Asghar, who is a Scottish citizen.
“I have therefore told the family I intend to speak directly with the Prime Minister about the situation and impress upon him the need for the UK government to do everything they can to ensure the safety of Mr Asghar.”
Despite Mr Asghar having long-standing mental health problems, this was not taken into account during his trial in Pakistan. He had been sectioned in Edinburgh in 2010 and was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.
Solicitor Aamer Anwar, who is representing Mr Asghar’s family in Scotland, said 70,000 people had signed a petition calling on Mr Cameron to intervene in the case. He said: “We welcome the unconditional support of the Scottish Government and the First Minister. We are disappointed that David Cameron has yet to respond to our request to meet with him on Friday when we hand in 70,000 signatures on a petition to Downing Street.
“All supporters of the petition will be asked tomorrow to e-mail David Cameron seeking his urgent personal intervention. It is no longer acceptable for the UK government to hide behind a wall of silence whilst Mr Asghar’s life hangs by a thread.”
Kate Higham, an investigator at Reprieve, said that there was growing concern for Mr Asghar’s safety following the shooting. “The fact that the local authorities in Pakistan are unwilling to share any meaningful information about this incident leaves question marks hanging around their commitment to ensuring both accountability and Mr Asghar’s ongoing security.
“This is simply unacceptable. Mr Asghar is an ageing, seriously ill man who should never have been sentenced in the first place. The British Government must redouble its efforts to ensure that Mr Asghar is returned home to his family in Edinburgh, before it’s too late.”
A Downing Street spokeswoman said last night: “The government has repeatedly raised Mr Asghar’s case at senior levels. The PM has been following Mr Asghar’s case closely and will update the First Minister tomorrow. He has also asked the minister for Pakistan Tobias Ellwood to meet with Mr Asghar’s family, which he will do on Friday.”