Free Mohammed Asghar: Daughter living in fear her mentally ill dad will be shot in a Pakistani jail for blasphemy
MOHAMMED Asghar, the Scottish grandfather of 12 has already been shot once in his Pakistani cell under accusations of blasphemy and his daughter fears he could be executed soon.
IT was 8.20am and Jasmine Rana was dropping her kids at school in Edinburgh when she got the call to say her 70-year-old father had been shot by a policeman.
Mohammad Asghar had been lying in his prison bed – in part of a Pakistani jail reserved for those sentenced to death for blasphemy – when a guard walked in and fired a bullet into his back. A second shot missed.
The retired Edinburgh businessman – who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, delusions and hallucinations – has been behind bars for nearly four years, accused of writing letters in which he claimed to be a prophet.
Two weeks ago, one of the police officers responsible for protecting him in jail decided to impose his own summary justice.
News of the shooting left Jasmine frozen in her car, clutching her phone in disbelief. Miraculously, her father survived.
The mum-of-four had been told to remain silent about her father’s plight by British officials but after the attempt on his life, she has spoken out in a bid to win his freedom.
She is urging the governments in Holyrood and Westminster to help bring her dad home to Scotland before it’s too late. Aamer Anwar, the family’s lawyer, has called on David Cameron to intervene and assist with Mohammed’s release.
Jasmine, 41, said: “He is being guarded in hospital by 24 policemen but it was a policeman who shot him in the first place. What am I supposed to think about that?
“Any day now they will transfer him back to the same jail where he was attacked.
“Every time my phone rings, I think this is the call to tell me he’s dead. I can’t think about anything else. None of us can.
“My dad is a British citizen. He worked hard all his life and looked after his family.
“He should be home here with us where we can protect him and get him the medication he needs. We need help to make that happen. We would do anything.”
In Rawalpindi, where Mohammad is being held, vigilante mobs follow his case demanding he be released into their unforgiving hands.
Free Mohammad Asghar- why won’t they?
The accusation of blasphemy is so highly charged that many lawyers, politicians and judges are scared of becoming involved.
In the past two years, there have been 50 vigilante killings of people accused of the crime.
Jasmine has managed to see her father only once since he was jailed and she spent the whole visit terrified of being exposed as his daughter.
She said: “I went out two years ago, before he was sentenced to death.
“Friends and family here told me not to go because it was too dangerous but I wanted to see him.
“When I arrived, I couldn’t tell anyone why I was there.
“I told myself, ‘I’m not going to cry when I see him because I don’t want to leave him thinking about his daughter crying. But when he was walking towards me, I saw this little sticking plaster on his finger and it just set me off.
“We were separated by bars but I was able to put my hand through and hold his.
“He showed me newspaper cuttings he said were of my brother. He was so pleased with the photos – but they weren’t my brother at all.
“I can’t bear to think of him lying on the floor on a concrete bed.”
Mohammad ran grocery shops and owned properties across Edinburgh for nearly 30 years, after moving north with his family from Birmingham. He rarely took a day off.
His five children would help out in his stores before school in the morning – and he’d give them coaching sessions in business
management in their spare time.
But he suffered a stroke in 2000 which left him suffering from seizures and depression as well as hallucinations and paranoia.
By 2010, his family were worried about his increasingly bizarre behaviour.
He was convinced that Tony Blair and George Bush were having him followed, he thought his house had been bugged and he believed governments were trying to control him through his satellite TV box.
Officers at his local police station became so concerned by his regular reports of strange crimes that they finally drove him to Edinburgh’s Royal Victoria Hospital.
He was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
Jasmine said: “For a while, I’d been thinking he was just getting old but eventually he wouldn’t even come in my house and would only meet me outside when it was dark and when, he said, the satellites couldn’t see him.
“He wasn’t like that all the time. Sometimes he’d seem normal – then he’d suddenly start to talk about George Bush having him followed.”
After a hunger strike and a month of treatment, her father was released.
A medication regime was put in place and arrangements made for regular psychiatric appointments. But within weeks he had left for Pakistan, leaving all treatment behind.
Jasmine said: “I didn’t even know he had gone. He must have arranged it himself.
“He owned properties in Pakistan but he got into a row with a tenant and it was this guy who made the accusation about letters and statements my dad was supposed to have made.”
Mohammad – who has 12 grandchildren – was arrested in September 2010, around five months after leaving hospital in Edinburgh, and charged with blasphemy.
His lawyers attempted to show evidence of his mental illness but he was still sentenced to death by hanging in January this year.
An appeal has been lodged but it could be five years or more before it is heard.
Free Mohammad Asghar now
In the meantime, Jasmine is working tirelessly to bring her father home.
And there is little she will not try herself to secure his safe return to her family.
She said: “I’m not going to stay quiet. I could have lost my dad last week and for my whole life, I would have regretted not speaking out.
“Everyday life is on hold until I see my dad walk back through the airport. I would love to go out to Pakistan, give him a hug and tell him that everything is going to be fine.
“But I think I can do more from here than I can from there and I would have to accept that my life would be at risk there.
“I am willing to take a bullet for my dad though. I would do anything to have him back.”
The question is how you hold this country together.
There has been a conscious shift to becoming an Islamic state, increasingly a Sunni Islamic state. The blasphemy law is a key part of that.
Various Taliban-related groups have been targeting liberal voices in recent years.
Although a survey suggests that a majority of people in Pakistan think the blasphemy laws are wrong, the debate has shifted in the opposite direction and less people are willing to speak out to say we should get rid of them.