THE family of a Scottish man sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy has spoken out amid questions over SNP leadership candidate Humza Yousaf missing the vote on same-sex marriage to meet with Pakistan’s Consul General in Glasgow in 2014.

Pensioner Mohammad Asghar, from Edinburgh, had a history of mental illness and had been held in a Pakistani prison since 2010.

In 2014, Asghar was sentenced to death, and Yousaf has said he missed the vote on same-sex marriage – despite supporting it at an earlier stage – to meet with the consul general in a bid to save him.

Former first minister Alex Salmond and former minister Alex Neil have said Yousaf organised the ministerial meeting with the knowledge that it would clash with the Holyrood vote.

Aamer Anwar, the solicitor for the Asghar family, has now released a statement on their behalf praising Yousaf for his role in helping to secure Mohammad's release and calling for the family’s privacy to be respected.

Asghar passed away in 2017 after returning to Scotland the year prior.

Anwar said: “Mr Asghar had languished in a Pakistani prison since 2010 after being accused of blasphemy, he had already a long and well-documented history of mental illness and was diagnosed as suffering from severe paranoid schizophrenia whilst in Scotland.

“Whilst in prison, Mr Asghar’s mental and physical health severely deteriorated. Behind closed doors everyone agreed that what had happened to an extremely ill grandfather from Edinburgh was a tragedy, but nobody was willing to do anything about it publicly, because to do so would put a target on your back from the extremists.

“In Pakistan, lawyers, campaigners, government ministers, police officers, governors, judges have either been killed or feared for their lives because they tried to follow due process or provide legal support to those accused or convicted of blasphemy.

“Once Mr Asghar was sentenced to death in January 2014, the family recognised that it was a race against time and I was instructed to act by the family in February 2014, following the sentence of death being pronounced in a Pakistani court.

“Whilst we appreciated that Pakistani Officials found themselves in a dangerous position with regards to dealing with blasphemy cases, they were warned by myself of the consequences of Mr Asghar dying in custody and his family could no longer remain silent.

“Humza Yousaf’s role as International Minister came at a critical time in the life of Mohammed Asghar, with Humza being of Pakistani origin, it meant his ministerial role was crucial in raising the case with the Pakistani authorities.

“One of my first steps on behalf of the family was to place pressure on Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Government and others to intervene, whilst the family were highly critical of the FCO and UK Government who wanted them to remain silent.

“Pakistan wanted no interference in its internal affairs, and matters were complicated by Mr. Asghar holding dual nationality. The situation in Pakistan was horrific for anyone accused of blasphemy, never mind convicted of it.

“The writing was on the wall for Mr Asghar, for example in September 2014 a radicalised prison guard entered his cell and shot him in the back. In the past there have been numerous instances of fellow prisoners or police officers killing individuals accused of blasphemy for religious reasons.

“Humza Yousaf agreed to act after the family spoke out and, indeed, he continued to meet with Pakistani officials including the Governor of Punjab in the weeks and months ahead. The matter was raised by the UK Prime Minister and the family also met with the then first Minister Alex Salmond in October 2014.

“Over the last two weeks, it has been suggested that supporting a man accused of blasphemy in Pakistan was an easier option for Mr Yousaf than turning up for a vote for same-sex marriage – the reality is very different.

“The Asghar family welcomed Mr Yousaf’s support as a high-profile Muslim at a critical time, when others were too scared to speak out and use their influence. Humza knew that Mr Asghar’s life hung by a thread and that every passing minute increased the threat to his life.

“Jasmine Rana, the daughter of Mohammed Asghar, asked me to state that they have always appreciated the role that Humza Yousaf played, it was a critical role, and he was tireless in ensuring that her father Mr Asghar was finally able to return home in 2016 to Scotland, to be surrounded by his family, and sadly he passed away in 2017.

“Jasmine authorised me today to issue this statement having watched the speculation over what had taken place nine years ago. Mr Asghar’s return was kept confidential for due to obvious concerns for his safety and importantly of those who had supported him not only in Pakistan but also the UK.

“Jasmine believes that but for Mr Yousaf’s involvement and support, she doubts her father would ever have died peacefully at home, for that her family will always grateful.

“Jasmine asks that her family’s privacy is respected and there will be no further comment on the matter.”

Yousaf has said that his support for equal marriage was "unequivocal".

"As I have said throughout this campaign, I was proud to vote in favour of the Equal Marriage Bill in Scotland's Parliament," he said.

"I have never denied there was pressure on me regarding this vote, but I was vocal about my support for marriage equality at the time and I remain totally unequivocal on that position.

"As your SNP First Minister, and as someone from a minority background myself, I will champion, defend and celebrate equal rights for all to the hilt.”