Pakistan’s controversial and often criticised (and abused) blasphemy law has hit the headlines once again as Reprieve is reporting that a mentally ill man has been sentenced to death under the penal code.
The law, which was originally established by the British in the region, in theory is meant to penalise people for blasphemy against any recognised religion, providing penalties ranging from a fine to death, but in practise is only used when people are found guilty of insulting Islam.
Mohammad Asghar, a 69 year old British citizen, from Edinburgh, has a long and documented history of psychological ill health. A few months before his arrest in Pakistan in September 2010, Mr Asghar was sectioned in Scotland under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003, and taken to Royal Victoria Hospital in Edinburgh. He was soon diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and kept under observation at the hospital for over a month. He moved to Pakistan shortly after his release.
Throughout the trial proceedings in Pakistan, Mr Asghar was reported as displayed evidence of ill health, by his Reprieve lawyers and suffering from persistent delusions. Reprieve also confirmed that he was admitted to a local hospital, but despite clear evidence of mental illness, he was released back to jail, where he shared a cell with several prisoners. In 2010 Mr Asghar was reported as having suffered from a stroke which left him with persistent left-sided weakness.
Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, which is supporting Mr Asghar said:
“One only needs to check Mohammed Asghar’s extensive UK medical records to see that he is a seriously mentally ill man, in dire need of medical care. The evidence is clear that he is unable to defend himself in court. Worse still, he is currently being held in utterly unsuitable conditions in prison, and we are very concerned about his health. The British government must immediately take all necessary steps to secure Mr Asghar’s safety.”