Taseer’s killer incites shooting on Briton blasphemy convict

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani policeman jailed for murdering a senior politician in a religiously-motivated attack incited a prison guard to shoot an elderly British man convicted of blasphemy, according to an internal inquiry.

Mohammad Asghar, whom British doctors say is seriously mentally ill, was shot and wounded by a guard at Adiyala jail in Rawalpindi, close to Islamabad, last month.

The 70-year-old was sentenced to death for blasphemy in January for claiming to be a prophet of Islam in a case that has prompted concern from British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The prison guard, Mohammad Yousuf, had spent more than two weeks guarding Mumtaz Qadri, who killed Punjab governor Salman Taseer three years ago, a senior jail official said.

Qadri, who was Taseer´s bodyguard, shot him dead at an Islamabad coffee shop over the politician´s call for Pakistan´s tough blasphemy laws to be reformed.

The prison official said an initial inquiry by a four-member committee found that Qadri had also prepared two other prison officers to hunt down blasphemy convicts in the prison.

“The accused (Yousuf) was deployed outside the cell of Mumtaz Qadri during the incident and he had confessed to taking religious lessons from him,” the jail official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The claims will heighten concerns about staff being radicalised by hardline inmates in Pakistan´s ageing and overcrowded prisons.

Religious instruction

Qadri was feted as a hero by a wide section of the public including lawyers for his killing, and was even showered with rose petals as he arrived at court for a trial hearing.

The official´s account of events was supported by three other prisoners held in the same part of the jail, who said guards regularly took religious instruction from Qadri.

“I was sleeping when I woke to the sound of gunshots and I saw the prison staff grabbing one of their fellows while Asghar was lying on the ground in a pool of blood,” an inmate living next to Asghar´s cell told AFP.

A second prisoner who saw the attack said a guard appeared in the wing and demanded to know where Asghar was.

“The prison staff usually shout at us and I thought Asghar´s family or lawyers must have sent him something, so I didn´t pay any attention, but then I heard the first gunshot,” the prisoner told AFP.

He said Asghar was trying to hide in the bathroom area of his cell while the gunman was firing at him.

“He was lucky that he reached the bathroom and the other prison staff arrived to grab the assassin, otherwise he would have been killed”, he said.

Special status

Inmates accused prison officials of giving Qadri special treatment.

“The prison staff don´t shout at him, they talk to him with respect and don´t make him do the usual work”, said one.

In a further sign that some staff had been radicalised, one high-profile murder convict told AFP that a prison guard had been giving him religious lessons a month before the attack.

“He told me to kill the two blasphemy convicts, saying that I have committed too many sins in my life but I can repay them by killing either both or one of them. He had promised to give me a weapon”, the prisoner told AFP.

Asghar, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in Britain in 2010, had declared his prophethood in court and included a reference to it on his business card, a prosecutor said at his trial.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim, and insulting the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) can carry the death penalty.

Even unproven allegations can provoke a violent response. In several cases, mobs have attacked the mentally ill over supposedly blasphemous acts.

Critics say the law is too broad and often abused to settle personal vendettas.

Asghar´s family, who have urged the British government to intervene, say the allegations against him stem from a property dispute with one of his tenants.