One inmate injured after incident at Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail.
A police constable opened fire on two blasphemy-accused men at Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail on Thursday, officials said, wounding one, who is being treated in hospital.
Christian pastor Zafar Bhatti and 70-year-old Scottish man Mohammad Asghar, who has diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in Britain in 2010, were in the same cell when the constable opened fire and wounded Asghar in the attack, according to reports in local media. News agency Reuters reported that Bhatti had been threatened by both inmates and guards and killed in the incident. However, police denied that Bhatti had been killed and would only confirm that Asghar had been injured.
“This is a barbaric act. There had been threats. The court should have instructed police to ensure Bhatti’s safety,” Xavier Williams of Life for All, a human rights group, told Reuters. Bhatti had been accused of sending blasphemous text messages, but police had proven the SIM was not registered in his name.
Asghar was convicted in January for claiming to be a prophet of Islam, moving British Prime Minister David Cameron to say he was “deeply concerned” about the issue. Asghar had declared his claims to prophethood in court and included a reference to it on his business card, a government prosecutor said at the time of his trial.
Abdul Majeed, a police official at the Saddar police station in Rawalpindi said: “A prison official in his early twenties transported an illegal weapon inside the prison this morning and shot an inmate.” Majeed added that the accused was in custody and would face charges for attempted murder and possession of an illegal weapon.
A doctor at the hospital where Asghar was first brought said: “One patient was brought here who had been shot from the back and the bullet has crossed his body affecting his ribs and lungs. He is out of danger now.”
The British High Commission in Islamabad confirmed the prison shooting of a national and said it was providing consular assistance. The attack took place around 8:30 a.m., a member of his legal team told AFP.
It is unclear what led to the attack, but blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan. Even unproven allegations can provoke a violent response. In 2012, a young Christian girl was forced to flee to Canada after being accused of blasphemy, even though the charges were eventually thrown out. There have also been several cases where mobs have attacked the mentally ill.
Asghar’s family in January urged the British government to intervene to bring him home, saying he had attempted suicide in jail. They also said the allegations against Asghar stemmed from a property dispute with one of his tenants.
Last week, gunmen shot dead a university professor in Karachi known for his liberal views on Islam who had been labeled a “blasphemer” in a text message campaign.
Adiala Jail also houses Mumtaz Qadri, the former bodyguard of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer whom he gunned down in 2011 over the politician’s call for the blasphemy laws to be reformed. Qadri was feted by a wide segment of the population including many lawyers, while a mosque named in his honor was recently built in Islamabad.
Though Asghar was on death row, Pakistan has had a de facto moratorium on civilian hangings since 2008. Only one person has been executed since then, a soldier convicted by a court martial and hanged in November 2012.