Family of mentally ill Brit sentenced to death in Pakistan appeal to UK government

January 27, 2014

The family of a British man sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy have appealed to the UK government to help their father, whose lawyers are being denied access to him in prison.

Mohammad Asghar‘s family have today released a statement through the legal charity Reprieve which has been assisting Mr Asghar, who last week was sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy.

Mr Asghar’s family are asking the British government to do more to help their father, whose lawyers have been unable to see him since his sentence was handed down. Mr Asghar has only seven days in which to appeal his sentence, meaning legal access is urgent.

Mr Asghar, 69 from Edinburgh, was in 2010 sectioned in Scotland under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003, and taken to Royal Victoria Hospital in Edinburgh. Shortly afterwards he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

In their statement, Mr Asghar’s family said:

“We are really upset and concerned that they will never release him and that he will die in jail. He has already attempted suicide unsuccessfully.

“We just want him back home where hopefully he can be treated for and recover from his mental illness.

“We urge the British Government to intervene and bring him home to us where he will be safe.”

The legal team denied access has been working on Mr Asghar’s case for over three years. They were replaced by State counsel in the last stages of the trial after filing an application to have the judge replaced on grounds of probable bias. Mr Asghar’s State-appointed Counsel failed to raise the issue of Mr Asghar’s paranoid schizophrenia before the judge, despite being given access to the extensive medical evidence available from the UK.

Mr Asghar’s legal team are concerned that he will try to commit suicide in prison. They have repeatedly raised these concerns with the prison authorities but have given no details over his condition and have not been allowed to see him.

An appeal must be filed before the High Court within seven days of the sentencing. If counsel is unable to meet this deadline then an automatic “jail appeal” will be filed – a single piece of paper stating Mr Asghar’s desire to appeal. If this happens, Mr Asghar’s lawyers will be barred from raising crucial evidence of Mr Asghar’s mental health and other fair trial issues on appeal.

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty Team said: “It is an absolute disgrace that Mr Asghar’s lawyers are not being allowed into the prison to see their mentally ill client just after he has been given a death sentence. We are calling on the British and Pakistan Governments to take all possible measures to ensure that Mr Asghar is protected and that his lawyers are given immediate access to the prison.”

ENDS

1. For further information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8161 / 66 / 60 or clemency.wells@reprieve.org.uk / donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk  / alice.gillham@reprieve.org.uk

2. The statement in full from Mr Asghar’s family:

“Our father, a British citizen, has been sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy despite being a confirmed Paranoid Schizophrenic by the Doctor who was treating him in the UK.

We, his family, want him released by the Pakistani Government so he can be treated appropriately for his medical condition.

As a result of a property dispute with one of his tenants my father was jailed pending a trial. The dates kept being moved forward so that by the time the trial concluded he had already been in horrific jail conditions sharing a cell with several other men for three years. Throughout this time he had minimum access to medication that might have helped his mental illness for three years.

We are really upset and concerned that they will never release him and that he will die in jail. According to his Doctor, Jane McLennan, “as many as 30-40 per cent of the victims of schizophrenia attempt suicide, and as many as 10% are sadly successful”.

He has already attempted suicide unsuccessfully.

We just want him back home where hopefully he can be treated for and recover from his mental illness.

We urge the British Government to do everything they can to make sure that he is safe. Please sign this petition and join us in trying to help our Dad. http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/david-cameron-save-muhammad-asghar-scottish-schizophrenic-condemned-to-death-in-pakistan-for-blasphemy .”

3. An affidavit signed by Dr. Jane McLennan, Senior Consultant at Royal Victoria Hospital in Edinburgh, can be read here.