David Cameron said today he was “deeply concerned” about a mentally ill British man sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.
Hours before Foreign Office representatives were due to meet with staff at the Pakistan High Commission in London, the Prime Minister insisted the UK Government was doing everything in its power to express its opposition to the death sentence handed to Mohammed Asghar.
In answer to a question by Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore during Prime Minister’s Questions, he said: “I too am deeply concerned about this death sentence passed onto Mr Mohammed Asghar and, as you know, it’s our long-standing policy to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances.
“But in these authorities, the Pakistani authorities can be of no doubt of the seriousness with which we view these developments.”
Speaking from the despatch box, he added: “(Foreign Office Minister) Baroness Warsi spoke to the Chief Minister of the Punjab on Monday, our High Commissioner in Islamabad continues to raise this case with the relevant authorities, Foreign Office officials are meeting Pakistan High Commission officials in London today to discuss his and other cases.
“We take this extremely seriously and we’re making that clear at every level.”
Labour MP Ms Gilmore had asked: “Mohammed Asghar, who has lived in the UK for 40 years and has family in my constituency, has recently been committed of blasphemy and sentenced to death in Pakistan.
“Mr Asghar was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2010 and was treated in Edinburgh, but the judges refused to take that into account.
“I wrote to the Foreign Secretary yesterday, but can you now assure me that you and your ministers are doing everything they can to support this man and to see him returned to the UK where he can get the treatment he needs?”
Mr Cameron replied: “I can certainly can give you the assurance that you have asked for.”
After visiting him in jail his legal team have raised serious concerns about Mr Asghar’s mental wellbeing – prompting fears his condition has seriously deteriorated.
Lawyers told the judicial charity Reprieve that he had appeared “pale, dehydrated, shaking and barely lucid” during a visit yesterday and was suffering from severe delusions.
The grocer was arrested in 2010 in Rawalpindi for writing the letters – which were never posted. But the court was not told of warnings from a leading Edinburgh psychiatrist that Mr Asghar, who lived in the Capital for more than 30 years, has a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and has previously experienced delusions that he is a “holy man”.
He was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Craigleith under the Mental Health Act just months before he returned to Pakistan that same year.
Reprieve said lawyers for Mr Asghar, who it is claimed has already attempted suicide, finally gained access to their client yesterday to get the necessary documents signed so that he can file his appeal.
But they told the charity they have concerns for his mental health and say that, despite his diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, prison medical staff remain unaware of his psychiatric illness and are not giving him the appropriate medication.
During their visit, it was “clear” he was in very poor health.
Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “We are extremely worried about Mr Asghar’s mental health, which appears to have seriously deteriorated. We are also extremely concerned by the reports that he is not being given the correct medication for his illness, putting him in a perilous position.
“We hope that the authorities in Pakistan and the UK will take all necessary steps to ensure that he gets the expert treatment he needs without delay.”
Mr Asghar’s family in Edinburgh is appealing for him to be released from custody in order to receive medical help and has launched a petition on change.org – addressed to Prime Minister David Cameron and Scotland First Minister Alex Salmond – calling for his release.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it has continuously made representations to the Pakistan government on behalf of Mr Asghar and would continue to do so.
The Scottish Government said it was in touch with the Foreign Office about the case.