Pakistan death sentence: ‘Treatment needed urgently’

A petition hopes to rally Prime Minister David Cameron and First Minister Alex Salmond. Picture: Ian Georgeson
A petition hopes to rally Prime Minister David Cameron and First Minister Alex Salmond. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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A LEITH grandfather sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy is in urgent need of mental health treatment, according to a legal charity.

Lawyers for Mohammed Asghar told campaigners at Reprieve that they have serious concerns about his mental wellbeing.

He appeared “pale, dehydrated, shaking and barely lucid”, and suffering from severe delusions during a visit by lawyers, it is claimed, prompting fears his condition has seriously deteriorated.

Reprieve said lawyers for Mr Asghar finally gained access to their client today.

As a result, they were able to get the necessary documents signed so that he can file his appeal against the sentence.

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 serious psychiatric illness and are not giving him the appropriate medication.

During their visit, it was “clear” he was in very poor health and they have stressed it is crucial he receives the expert medical treatment he urgently needs.

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.”

The Pakistan High Commission in London has said the mental health of Mr Asghar should be taken into account when his appeal against the death sentence for blasphemy is heard. It issued a statement as his family pleaded that he not be allowed to “die in jail”.

The Commission said it had received “messages of concern” as Mr Asghar’s family in Edinburgh said they were growing increasingly desperate over the plight of the 68-year-old retired city shopkeper who has already spent three years in prison in Pakistan.

Mr Asghar was condemned to death by a court in Rawalpindi last week after he wrote letters, which were never posted, which he signed as “prophet” Mohammad.

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”.

The High Commission said it had received “pleas for leniency from UK residents and politicians, including senior Foreign Office minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.

In a conciliatory statement it said: “Pakistan High Commission wishes to inform all concerned that the claim that Mohammad Asghar was a mental case was perhaps not brought out in the proceedings of the case. While the matter is being investigated, Pakistan High Commission hopes that in his appeal before higher appellate court, Mohammad Asghar’s lawyers would be able to forcefully plead his case of mental condition on the basis of his previous history in UK. It is also hoped that justice would be done on the grounds of his mental infirmity.”

Mr Asghar’s family called on the British Government to help to bring him home, where he could be treated for his mental illness. The family have launched a petition calling on Prime Minister David Cameron and First Minister Alex Salmond to “intervene in the strongest possible terms to help save the life of a vulnerable British man”.

The family said he had already attempted suicide unsuccessfully.

Labour’s Douglas Alexander has written to Foreign Secretary William Hague, asking him to make immediate representations to Pakistan’s government over the case.

Lawyers fear they will not be able to see him in prison until it is too late to get him to sign a secondary power of attorney and lodge an appeal. Under Pakistan law this must be lodged with the court seven days after conviction.

Baroness Warsi said she was “deeply concerned” by the case, adding: “I am personally raising this in the strongest possible terms with the Pakistani government, as are officials here and in Islamabad.”