Prime Minister must intervene to protect life of Mohammad Asghar

September 28, 2014

Lawyers for a 70-year-old, mentally ill British citizen who was shot in a Pakistani jail last week are calling on David Cameron to ensure his safety, after it emerged that plans are underway to return him to the prison.

Mohammad Asghar, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and had been sentenced to death earlier this year on ‘blasphemy’ charges, was shot in the back on Thursday morning at around 8.30 am by a guard believed to be a member of Pakistan’s Elite Force. He received surgery later that day and has remained in hospital since. However, reports that the Pakistani authorities now intend to return him to the prison where he was shot have led to new concerns for Mr Asghar’s safety.

Since being sentenced to death in January this year, Reprieve lawyers and Mr Asghar’s family had regularly warned the authorities that his life was at risk in Adiala prison, where last week’s shooting took place.  People accused or convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan face a high level of risk from attacks by religious extremists. Lawyers for Mr Asghar filed an appeal against his conviction in February this year, and have pointed out that judges at his original trial refused to consider clear evidence of his mental illness.

However, it can often take five years or more before an appeal is heard. The prison does not have the facilities to adequately treat individuals with mental illness as severe as Mr Asghar’s, and his lawyers have noted a marked deterioration in his condition following the recent attempt on his life.

Mr Asghar’s daughter, Jasmine, has called on the British Government to help her father.  In a press conference last Friday, she said: “We are begging David Cameron and the whole of the British Government to do everything they can to ensure that as soon as he is well enough to travel our father is brought back to the UK where he will be safe. Until then, we want him to be kept in a hospital where he will be properly protected and treated.

“Our father is a very mentally ill man. He has been unwell for a very long time and in 2010 he was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia by his doctors here in Scotland. He has now been in prison for four years and is basically being punished because he is sick. The British Government cannot stand by and let this continue. Our dad needs help now, otherwise it may become too late.”

On Thursday evening last week Reprieve sent a letter to David Cameron, requesting that all possible steps be taken to ensure that Mr Asghar is held in a secure facility where he can receive adequate treatment for his recent injuries and longstanding mental health problems.

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty team said: “To move Mr Asghar to a prison now, where there is no way of guaranteeing his safety, would be to effectively hand out a second death sentence that could be carried out at any moment. The British Government simply cannot allow this to happen. They must ensure that he is held in a secure medical facility where he can receive the treatment he so desperately needs, both for his recent injuries and his existing mental illness.” ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Reprieve’s letter to UK Prime Minister David Cameron regarding Mr Asghar can be found here: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/media/downloads/2014_09_25_PUB_to_Prime_Minister_re_Mohammed_Asghar_shooting.pdf

2. For further information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8160