Mohammad Asghar case: New appeal for Scot on death row in Pakistan

Appeal comes on World Day against the Death Penalty

On World Day against the Death Penalty (10 October), Amnesty International has launched a new appeal for Mohammad Asghar, the Scottish man on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy.

Asghar, 70, who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was sentenced to death earlier this year after being convicted of blasphemy in 2010. He was arrested and accused of blasphemy after writing a series of letters claiming to be the Prophet Mohammed. Last month Asghar was shot and wounded by a police officer at the Rawalpindi prison where he is held.

The appeal - - comes as Amnesty warns that numerous countries around the world have also sentenced people to death despite evidence of them having mental and intellectual disabilities - a clear violation of international standards on the death penalty.

Siobhan Reardon, Amnesty International’s Programme Director in Scotland said:

'It is inconceivable that Mohammad Asghar was attacked by a prison guard – the very person who should be providing protection. This is clear evidence that those accused of blasphemy in Pakistan are never safe from vigilante violence.  He was sentenced to death despite being diagnosed with a serious mental disability. Blasphemy carries a potential death sentence in Pakistan– in direct contravention of the country’s international human rights commitments.

'The international standards on mental and intellectual disability are important safeguards for vulnerable people. They are not designed to excuse horrendous crimes – but to set clear guidelines for the nature of the penalty that can be imposed.

'As the recent shooting incident shows, Mohammad is in mortal danger every day he remains on death row and we are urging the UK government to step up efforts to get him out of prison and into a place of safety.

'Mr Asghar should never have been sentenced to death for writing letters – he should be released immediately and his sentence quashed.'

Amnesty International has documented cases of people suffering mental and ill disabilities facing execution or being executed in countries including Japan, Pakistan and the USA. Unless these countries urgently reform their criminal justice systems, many more people are at risk.

We oppose the death penalty in all circumstances – it is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. But in those countries that still execute, international standards, including those prohibiting the use of capital punishment on certain vulnerable groups, must be respected and implemented, pending full abolition.'

For this year’s World Day against the Death Penalty, Amnesty International and the World Coalition against the Death Penalty are putting the spotlight on capital punishment and, in particular, the impact on people with mental or intellectual disabilities.

Notes to editors:

Recent case studies on use of the death penalty against people with mental or intellectual disabilities:

USA: Askari Abdullah Muhammad was executed in Florida on 7 January 2014 for a prison murder committed in 1980. He had a long history of serious mental illness, including diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia. On 9 April Mexican national Ramiro Hernandez Llanas was executed in Texas despite evidence that his intellectual disability, as assessed in six different IQ tests over the past decade, rendered his death sentence unconstitutional. In Florida, Amnesty International is highlighting the cases of two death row prisoners -- Frank Walls and Michael Zack -- who both have a background of severe mental trauma and have exhausted their appeals process.

Japan: several prisoners suffering from mental illness have already been executed; others remain on death row. Hakamada Iwao, now 78 years old, was sentenced to death for murder following an unfair trial in 1968, and is the world’s longest serving death row prisoner. He developed severe mental problems during his decades of solitary confinement.  He was temporarily released in March 2014 pending a possible retrial. Matusmoto Kenji has been on death row for murder since 1993 and could face execution any moment – he has a mental disability as a result of mercury poisoning (Minamata disease), is reportedly paranoid and incoherent as a result of a mental illness he developed during his detention on death row, and his lawyers are seeking a retrial.

Experts are available for interview – to arrange please contact Pauline Kelly

Amnesty International Scotland:
Pauline Kelly: 0131 718 6687, 07818 453070
Twitter: @AmnestyScotland

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