An elderly paranoid schizophrenic man from Edinburgh has been sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy after he claimed he was the Prophet Mohammed. Mohammad Asghar, 71, who was convicted and sentenced on Thursday, is currently in Rawalpindi's high security Adiala Jail where his lawyers said he has attempted suicide and suffered a stroke. He has a long history of mental illness and was once sectioned under the Mental Health Act and treated at Edinburgh's Royal Victoria Hospital.
His lawyers had argued that his mental health issues explained his alleged claims to be a prophet and submitted his complete NHS patient records to support their case. In an affidavit for his defence team, Dr Jane McLennan, who treated him, said his history of mental illness dated back to 1993 and that he had suffered a stroke in 2000 which had exacerbated his problems and left him with facial palsy and a limp. Shortly before he arrived and was arrested in Rawalpindi in 2010, he had been admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital suffering from paranoid delusions, including beliefs that Tony Blair and George Bush had deployed Secret Service agents to watch him because of his opposition to the Iraq war. He also believed his home was bugged by Pakistani and international media organisations. He was released from hospital in March of that year on heavy medication, but Dr McLennan said it was unlikely he would have continued it when he left for Pakistan shortly after. She warned there was a high risk of suicide and offered to treat him back in Edinburgh.
A Pakistan medical board, however, pronounced Asghar to be of sound mind, clearing the way for the death penalty. He is expected to remain in jail for five years before an appeal is heard. Mr Asghar was first arrested a few months after his release from hospital after a tenant renting one of his properties handed police several unmailed letters in which he claimed to be the Prophet Mohammad. It is understood that Asghar had sought to evict the tenant who had kept the letters for more than a month before giving them to the police. Pakistan's blasphemy law is regarded as controversial among the country's educated elite because it is often misused against Christians and other religious minorities to settle personal and property disputes. The laws were widely condemned in 2012 when a 14-year-old Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, who suffered learning difficulties, was arrested after she was falsely accused of setting fire to pages of the Koran.
Two leading Pakistani politicians, Salman Taseer, then governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, a minorities minister, were murdered in 2011 for opposing the blasphemy laws and supporting Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for "insulting Islam". Mr Asghar's lawyers, who asked not to be named for their own safety, said they feared for his well-being in prison. "We want to stress that Asghar is in a suicidal state and that the authorities need to put him on suicide watch; he has suffered a stroke and has already tried to kill himself in prison," they said.
A spokesperson for the British High Commission in Islamabad said it was aware of Asghar's case but could not comment on it. Maya Foa, of Reprieve, which campaigns against the death penalty, said Asghar was a "seriously ill man" and that the "British Government must immediately take all necessary steps to secure Asghar's safety".