Saturday, September 27, 2014

Family begs Cameron to step in to save 'philanthropist' Briton, 70, jailed for blasphemy in Pakistan

  • Mohammed Asghar was sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy 
  • Accused of writing letters to people claiming to be the Prophet Mohammed 
  • Was shot by a guard at a prison in Rawalpindi and is now in hospital 
  • His son has called on David Cameron to help secure release of his father
  • Says he was targeted because he is a wealthy man and owns property 
  • The 70-year-old from Edinburgh is also mentally ill after suffering a stroke  

Mohammed Asghar, who has been sentenced to death in Pakistan after being accused of writing letters claiming to be the Prophet Mohammed 
Mohammed Asghar, who has been sentenced to death in Pakistan after being accused of writing letters claiming to be the Prophet Mohammed 
The family of British man who has been jailed in Pakistan for blasphemy has begged David Cameron to help save him.

Mohammed Asghar from Edinburgh was sentenced to death in January after being accused of writing letters to a number of people claiming to be the Prophet Mohammed.

The 70-year-old, who is mentally ill, is said to have donated thousands of pounds towards education in his native Pakistan, helping to build an orphanage and school.

The grandfather is currently in hospital after being shot by a prison guard at Adiala prison in Rawalpindi on Thursday morning.

Now his son Tony has called on the Prime Minister to help release his father, who he said is being targeted for his wealth.

He also added that he has also been warned to stay away from the jail as he too would be shot.

Mr Asghar, 41, told the Independent: 'It’s all about money. That’s why my father is in prison.
'I have had phone calls from there not to go and see him because there is a bullet with my name on it.

'My father is a very, very wealthy man over there he has property and everything. I have full power of attorney over his estate and that’s why no one wants me to go over there.'

Yesterday, Mr Asghar's family spoke at a press conference in Glasgow where they told of how he has a long history of mental illness and needs specialist care, which he is not receiving in jail.

They have also urged Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond to intervene so he can be transferred back to the UK for treatment.

Family solicitor Aamer Anwar said: 'To date the British government has failed to provide any meaningful assistance to Mr Asghar or his family. It is now too late to wait for discussions behind closed doors and other delaying tactics.

    'The next 48 hours will be critical for Mr Asghar's personal safety.'
    Mr Asghar was arrested in 2010 in Rawalpindi after a blasphemy complaint was brought against him by a tenant with whom he was having a dispute.  

    He had previously been diagnosed as suffering from severe paranoid schizophrenia but this was not taken into account by the authorities during his trial, Mr Anwar said.

    He said prison doctors have failed to acknowledge the severity of his psychiatric illness and he has been given only the most basic antidepressant medication.

    Tony Asghar
    Jasmina Rana, Mr Asghar's daughter
    Mr Asghar's son Tony, left has appealed for David Cameron to help bring his father back to the UK. He spoke at a press conference yesterday alongside his sister Jasmina Rana, right 

    A Foreign Office spokesman said last night: 'We are deeply concerned about the case of Mr Asghar, who was injured while in prison in Pakistan.

    'Consular officials continue to monitor his situation and are liaising with the hospital and prison authorities.

    'We have raised our concerns about his safety and welfare at senior levels to ensure that he is receiving the best possible support and that there is an urgent investigation into what happened.

    'We have previously raised our concerns about his wider case, including through the former foreign secretary, and will continue to do so.

    The Foreign Office say they are in regular contact with Mr Ashghar's famiy and added they are deeply concerned by the case 
    The Foreign Office say they are in regular contact with Mr Ashghar's famiy and added they are deeply concerned by the case 
    'It is crucial that concerns about Mr Asghar's safety and mental health are addressed and also taken into consideration during his appeal.

    'We are in regular contact with family members in the UK and Pakistan.

    'The Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistair Carmichael, has also spoken to Mr Asghar's daughter and expressed our concerns at his situation and the distress that this is causing his family.' 

    Retired grocery shop owner Mohammed Asghar was a well-known member of Edinburgh's Muslim community and worshiped at the Shah Jalal Mosque and Islamic Centre in the city.

    He was born in Pakistan but came to the UK aged 15 and worked in a factory in Birmingham.

    Mr Asghar worked himself up before moving to Edinburgh, where he married and opened a number of grocery shops in Leith.

    In 2000 he suffered a stroke before being diagnosed with his mental illness.

    Scores of people have been arrested in Pakistan under the country's harsh blasphemy laws, which carry sentences of life in prison or the death penalty. 

    Rights groups say the laws often are exploited for personal gain and that members of Pakistan's minority population are disproportionately targeted.

    People accused of blasphemy also have been attacked and killed by angry vigilante mobs.

    The charges are also hard to fight because the law does not define what is blasphemous and presenting the evidence can sometimes itself be considered a fresh infringement. 

    Few leaders in the predominantly Muslim country have shown willingness to tackle the contentious issue, especially after two prominent politicians who criticised the blasphemy law were murdered in recent years.

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