Briton among 19,000 on death row


A mentally-ill British grandfather is among more than 19,000 people on death row around the world, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

The case of Mohammad Asghar, from Edinburgh, who was sentenced to death in Pakistan last year after being convicted of blasphemy, features in the human rights campaigners’ annual review of the death penalty worldwide.

There have been intense fears for Mr Asghar’s safety and repeated calls for him to be freed since he was shot and wounded by a guard at the Rawalpindi prison where he was being held in September last year.

Mohammad Asghar is among at least 19,000 people on death row around the world, according to Amnesty.

The Amnesty report concluded that the grandfather, who is in his 70s, was one of at least 19,094 people who were under a death sentence by the end of 2014.

Overall, there was a 28% increase in the number of death sentences last year compared to the previous year, the campaign body concluded.

In 2014 at least 2,466 death sentences were handed down in 55 countries around the world, compared to 1,925 the year before – an increase Amnesty said was largely driven by developments in Nigeria and Egypt.

Nigerian courts issued at least 659 death sentences, a jump of more than 500 compared to 2013, while Egyptian courts handed out at least 509 death sentences, 400 more than the year before, Amnesty said.

The figures, contained in the 76-page report, also show that least 607 executions were known to have been carried out in 2014. This is compared to 778 in 2013, a drop of 22%.

The other countries making up the world’s top five executioners in 2014 were Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US, according to the report. China is excluded from the figures as the number of executions remains a state secret.

Amnesty International’s secretary general, Salil Shetty, said: “In a year when abhorrent summary executions by armed groups were branded on the global consciousness like never before, it is appalling that governments are themselves resorting to more executions in a knee-jerk reaction to combat terrorism and crime.

“It is shameful that so many states around the world are essentially playing with people’s lives – putting people to death for ‘terrorism’ or to quell internal instability on the ill-conceived premise of deterrence.”

Mr Asghar, a British national of Pakistani origin, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in the UK in 2010, before he moved to Pakistan.

He was convicted of blasphemy in 2014 and sentenced to death. Despite his diagnosis in the UK, the Pakistan Court ruled he was sane.

His appeal was pending before the Lahore High Court at the end of the year and he remained in hospital at that stage.

Mr Asghar’s lawyer believes his client is at risk of being killed if returned to prison because of the blasphemy charge.

Another Briton on death row is Cheltenham grandmother Lindsay Sandiford, who is under a death sentence in Indonesia following a 2013 drug trafficking conviction over cocaine found in the lining of her suitcase.

Amnesty said her death sentence has been upheld on appeal and she is at risk of execution this year.