Pakistan: Edinburgh man’s blasphemy death sentence

People in Pakistan protest at blasphemy. Picture: Getty
People in Pakistan protest at blasphemy. Picture: Getty
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A LOTHIAN man has been sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan after he claimed to be a prophet of Islam, a lawyer has revealed.

Mohammed Asghar, a British national, who lived in the Edinburgh area, was arrested in 2010 in the garrison city of Rawalpindi for writing letters claiming to be a prophet, police said.

A special court in Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail, where Mr Asg-har is being held, has rejected defence claims the 68-year-old, who is of Pakistani origin, has mental health problems.

Although the pensioner did not post the letters, an angry tenant who he was trying to evict took them to police who arrested Mr Asghar.

The law firm representing Mr Asghar, which did not want to be identified for fear of being targeted by extremists, said it was not present during the judgment because the judge had

prevented them from representing their client in court since October.

His lawyers said Mr Asghar was instead appointed a state counsel, who did not put his medical history as evidence or call witnesses in his defence, and did not question a state-appointed board that declared him sane.

Mr Asghar was sentenced to death on Thursday and ordered to pay a fine of one million Pakistan rupees (£6,000). Last night, his lawyers said they would appeal against his conviction.

After the hearing, Javed Gul, a government prosecutor, said: “Asghar claimed to be a prophet even inside the court. He confessed it in front of the judge.

Asghar used to write it even on his visiting card.”

He said a medical board examined Mr Asghar but claimed they “declared him as a normal person”. Mr Gul added: “Asghar failed to produce even a single witness in his favour.”

Mr Asghar moved from Pakistan to Edinburgh in the 1980s where he set up a chain of successful grocery stores in Loanhead, Midlothian, and had two sons.

Only four months before his arrest by the Pakistani authorities in September 2010, Mr Asghar was sectioned in Scotland under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act 2003, and taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Edinburgh. He was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and kept under observation at the hospital for over a month. He moved to Pakistan shortly after his release. It is thought he rented out properties he had bought in Pakistan before leaving for Scotland in the 80s.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are aware a British national is facing the death penalty in Pakistan. We strongly object to use of the death penalty and will continue to provide consular assistance to him and his family during this difficult time.

One of Mr Asghar’s Edinburgh friends last night said they were shocked by his arrest and conviction.

The man, who did not want to be identified, said: “Mr Asghar was a very popular man. He was a businessman and set up a very successful grocery business. He was an active member of the Edinburgh Muslim community and regularly went to the mosque.

“He was very well thought of in Edinburgh. We knew of his mental illness before he went to Pakistan. He is not a well man and not in normal mind – otherwise he would never have made those comments. He was a devout Muslim.”

A spokesman for Mr Asghar’s lawyers said he was arrested after returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca when a tenant went to the police with the letters. “He had held on to the letters for 45 days. He said Mr Asghar had signed the letters as a prophet, but had never intended to send them.

“He [Mr Asghar] is a frail old man and in very bad shape both mentally and physically.”

“We are now going to file an appeal to get the evidence heard on the state of his mental health, which they failed to consider.”

Last night, Mr Asghar’s team at the London-based legal charity Reprieve said it had obtained information confirming Mr Asghar’s mental and physical ill-health, stating he requires constant care. These include his NHS records and an affidavit signed by Dr Jane McLennan, senior consultant at the Royal Victoria.

They said that throughout his his trial proceedings Mr Asghar displayed evidence of ill-health, becoming extreme agitated and suffering from persistent delusions.