Briton jailed in Pakistan for 'posing as Muslim' tells of ordeal

By Athar Ahmad
BBC Asian Network and BBC Newsnight

media captionMembers of the Ahmadiyya community helped Mr Ahmad flee Pakistan after he was granted bail at a third attempt

A British man jailed for "posing as a Muslim", has spoken for the first time since returning to the UK.

Masud Ahmad, 73, was arrested in Pakistan in November under blasphemy laws but fled while on bail.

The 73-year-old is part of the minority Ahmadiyya sect, who are considered heretics in Pakistan.

They were declared non-Muslim in 1974 by the Pakistan government because of their belief in a subservient prophet after Muhammad.

One of the restrictions on their religious freedom is that they cannot publicly recite the Koran.

Late last year, a young man posing as a patient visited Mr Ahmad at his homeopathy clinic in Lahore, before asking questions about religion.

"I have no business talking about religious beliefs when I am working, I am only here to help people. But he kept pushing the topic into matters about Islam", Mr Ahmad said.

The man then used a mobile phone to secretly film Mr Ahmad reading the Koran and called the police to have him arrested.

image captionMr Ahmad's granddaughter Madiha said she had also encountered religious discrimination

Educated in Britain, Mr Ahmad first came to the UK in the 1960s, where he set up his own watch repair business, before returning to Pakistan in 1982.

The grandfather-of-nine, now living with his children in Glasgow, was placed in a jail with other prisoners also charged under the country's blasphemy law.

He said: "It was a small cell, 8ft by about 12ft and within it a toilet. We had to sleep on the floor. The temperature was almost minus one degree in the night."

About 400 people protested outside the police station in which Mr Ahmad was being held, demanding to see him.

Small suitcase

He said: "They were shouting and chanting, 'let us kill him, let us kill him'. But I wasn't scared."

Members of the Ahmadiyya community helped Mr Ahmad flee the country after he was granted bail at a third attempt.

It is understood no travel restrictions were put in place by police and as a dual Pakistani-British national, he was able to return to the UK.

Escaping the country quickly meant he was only able to take one small suitcase and the prayer hat he was wearing when arrested.

"I'm still a wanted man in Pakistan as I was only given bail. Ahmadis are treated like animals, I can't go back. The Mullahs (religious clerics) are grinding their teeth, wondering how I could escape them," he said.

"Ahmadis can be jailed for up to three years in Pakistan for referring to their faith as Islam, preaching or "outraging the religious feelings of Muslims."

The country has a history of taking claims of blasphemy particularly seriously.

Last month, a Christian road sweeper was sentenced to death after being convicted of using derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad in a row with a Muslim friend.

In 2011, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was killed after being shot by one of his bodyguards.

Many were angered by the 66-year-old's defence of Asia Bibbi, a Christian woman sentenced to death under the country's blasphemy law.

As a result of such incidents, Mr Ahmad's 20-year-old granddaughter, Madiha, was concerned about how her grandfather had been coping in prison.

She said: "He'd been recovering from cancer, he's 73 years old. A jail like that is no place for someone like him to be. We were over here and so didn't know how he was."

The university student said she had also suffered discrimination in Pakistan because of her religious beliefs, but believed that things would one day change.

"They are going to pay for this, of course they are. Because they are just doing bad to people who have done nothing to them. We have never said one word of hatred to them," she said.

Having returned to the UK after 32 years, Mr Ahmad is now trying to establish a new life for himself in Scotland.

"Glasgow's nice. The weather's sometimes hard to get used to - it rains, then it's sunny, then it rains again. But it is a very nice place", he said.

"Pakistan is my motherland and you will always love your mother. But I have a freedom here which is very essential. I love my country but I can't go back. If I go back, I will be put in prison or murdered."

More on this story