Salmond seeks prisoner transfer for blasphemy OAP

Mohammed Asgar. Pic: comp
Mohammed Asgar. Pic: comp
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Alex Salmond is seeking talks with the Prime Minister on the transfer of an Edinburgh man on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy.

There are fears for the safety of 70-year-old Mohammad Asghar, who was shot by a prison guard in Adiala prison in Rawalpindi last month.

His family, backed by campaigners, say he is not receiving the medical treatment he requires for his mental illness.

Following a meeting with Mr Asghar’s relatives at Bute House today, the First Minister said he intends to press David Cameron on seeking a prisoner transfer agreement so the grandfather can serve his time in a Scottish jail.

Mr Salmond told STV News: “Mohammad Asghar’s family are obviously in a dreadful state because, after the attack on their father, it’s pretty clear his safety cannot be guaranteed.

“It’s pretty clear from the evidence we have that Mr Asghar is mentally ill, he’s not responsible for his actions, and it seems obvious what should happen, that he should be certified as such and he should be transferred back to Scotland.

“We have already made an offer that we can have him in the Scottish prison service under a prisoner transfer agreement.”

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

He was arrested in 2010 following a blasphemy complaint by a tenant with whom he was having a dispute.

The Scot had previously been diagnosed as suffering from severe paranoid schizophrenia but this was not taken into account by the authorities during his trial, the family’s solicitor, Aamer Anwar, said.

A 70,000-signature petition calling on Mr Cameron to intervene will be presented to Downing Street on Friday.

Mr Anwar, who attended today’s meeting, said: “We advised the First Minister that the Pakistani government to date has broken every promise that has been made. They are still refusing to release details of the investigation into the shooting of Mohammad Asghar and cannot guarantee his safety.

“We welcome the unconditional support of the Scottish Government, the First Minister and their repeated attempts to assist Mr Asghar and his family.

“We are disappointed that David Cameron has yet to respond to the request to meet with him on Friday when we hand in 70,000 signatures on a petition to Downing Street. All supporters of the petition will be asked tomorrow to email David Cameron seeking his urgent personal intervention.”

Kate Higham from legal action charity Reprieve said: “Mr Asghar is an ageing, seriously ill man who should never have been sentenced in the first place. The British Government must redouble its efforts to ensure that Mr Asghar is returned home to his family in Edinburgh, before it’s too late.”

In a statement following the meeting, Mr Salmond said: “I am extremely concerned about the welfare of Mr Asghar. This is a situation which has been ongoing for many months and is causing considerable distress to his family.

“The Scottish Government will continue to do whatever can be done to support the wishes of the family and assist with the security and wellbeing of Mr Asghar, who is a Scottish citizen.

“I have therefore told the family I intend to speak directly with the Prime Minister about the situation and impress upon him the need for the UK Government to do everything they can to ensure the safety of Mr Asghar.”