THERE are more questions over Humza Yousaf’s decision to miss a key vote on gay marriage after documents obtained by The Herald undermined his claim that he was unable to take part because of an “unavoidable” meeting. 

The Scottish Government had initially wanted to keep the papers secret but was ultimately forced to hand over a series of briefings, letters and notes relating to the case of Mohammed Asghar, the Scot with a history of mental illness, who was on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy at the time.

The correspondence released has no record of the meeting that Mr Yousaf attended at the Consulate of Pakistan in Glasgow on the same day as the final Holyrood vote on equal marriage.

Unusually, there is no minute, and no briefing paper was prepared in advance.

It is also not mentioned in subsequent papers detailing the actions taken by the Scottish Government in relation to Mr Asghar’s case.

The paperwork also seemingly contradicts Mr Yousaf’s claim that he became engaged with the case after the family “had pleaded for the government to try to get involved.”

A note prepared by the Scottish Government's International Division on 27 January - eleven days after Mr Yousaf had added the meeting with the consulate into his ministerial diary - said: “The family of Mohammed Asghar have not approached the Scottish Government.” 

READ MORE: Yousaf facing questions over missed gay marriage vote

Mr Yousaf’s voting history came under scrutiny during his campaign for the SNP leadership when former health secretary Alex Neil claimed the then minister for external affairs wanted to avoid the equal marriage vote as he was under “pressure from the mosque”.

Although he backed the legislation in principle at Stage 1 in November 2013, he was the only minister to miss the crucial Stage 3 vote on 4 February 2014.

This was because he had himself created a diary clash 19 days in advance of the vote by arranging to meet the Consul General.

However, Mr Neil - who supported Mr Yousaf’s rival Kate Forbes in the contest - said he believed the meeting was arranged as “cover” for his absence. 

His version of events was backed up by former first minister Alex Salmond. 

But Mr Yousaf repeatedly denied the claims, saying there was no other date he could have attended the meeting. 

During the leadership contest, he told journalists: “This was an unavoidable meeting, not a meeting to just discuss policy or to have a chinwag about any old issue. This was about a Scottish citizen in Pakistan on death row whose family, very publicly, had pleaded for the government to try to get involved to secure his release.”

The Scottish Government initially refused to release documents about Mr Yousaf’s meeting and their work on Mr Asghar’s case, bizarrely claiming it would “undermine the promotion of human rights and endanger human rights defenders.”

However, after The Herald appealed they admitted that a “different decision” should have been reached. 

The day after Mr Yousaf missed the Stage 3 gay marriage vote, then Labour MSP Mary Fee tabled a very specific written parliament question about his diary.

It asked for his appointments for the day of the vote, when they were added and by whom.

This revealed then minister for parliamentary business Joe FitzPatrick requested on 14 January 2014 that Mr Yousaf be present in the chamber for the gay marriage vote.

Two days later, on 16 January, Mr Yousaf himself requested a meeting with the Pakistan Consul General in Glasgow on the day of the vote.

Mr Yousaf first mentioned the meeting with the consulate on Twitter, when he was asked about his absence from the marriage vote. 

He wrote: “Had ministerial engagement arranged beforehand but signed pledge, voted for stage one and v public about my (continued) support!”

Pressed on whether this had been “unavoidable”, Mr Yousaf replied: “Meeting Pakistan Consul discussing Scot on death row accused under Blasphemy Law not one could/want avoid.”

READ MORE: Alex Salmond queries Humza Yousaf's gay marriage vote excuse

The first document released is the briefing note prepared for 27 January which advises that either Mr Salmond or Mr Yousaf should “make representations to the authorities in Pakistan.” 

It continues: “Given that the appeal process may have several years to go, we recommend that such representations should at this stage focus on ensuring a fair appeals process and Mr Asghar’s safety and medical treatment in prison.”

On the 28th of January, Fiona Hyslop, then the cabinet secretary for culture and external affairs, and Mr Yousaf’s boss, wrote to the Consulate of Pakistan to “express the deep concerns of the Scottish Government about Mohammed Asghar, the 65 year old man from Edinburgh (with dual British and Pakistani nationality) who received the death sentence on 23 January.” 

She signed off the letter saying that she looked forward to “meeting with you soon to hear what immediate steps the Pakistan Government can take to ensure that this punishment is not carried out and that Mr Asghar receives the medical attention that he needs.” 

The next day, Mr Salmond spoke to Mohammad Sawar, who, at the time, was the governor of Punjab. 

He urged the former Glasgow Central MP to “take all necessary steps to ensure Mr Asghar’s safety and security.”

That was followed up with a phone call.

The next paper released by the Scottish Government is dated 19 February and is a brief prepared for Mr Yousaf ahead of a meeting with Sarah Bilal, the lawyer for Mr Asghar.

It includes details of all the actions already taken by the Scottish Government, including the letter from Ms Hyslop to the Pakistan Consul General and Mr Salmond’s conversation with Mr Sarwar. 

It also notes that Mr Yousaf spoke to Mr Asghar’s daughter on 5 February. 

However, it does not mention the meeting on 4 February. 

It then states that Ms Hyslop wrote to the Pakistan Consul General on 28 January and notes that “an acknowledgement has been received and we are waiting for a meeting to be set up.” 

The briefing paper also states that the Scottish Government, under the advice of the Foreign Office are keen to keep a low profile, “to give the Pakistan authorities the room to manoeuvre on this and not push them into a corner.”

“They should then consider early next week whether a further call from ministers or senior officials would be helpful.”

It notes that blasphemy cases in Pakistan are often controversial and that international advocacy and media coverage cases involving dual nationals or people from minority backgrounds “is frequently misrepresented as criticism of Islam and/or an example of Western double standards.” 

“We are therefore very mindful of the need to avoid a public debate or release of information that could hinder prospects of resolving the case as soon as possible. That is a concern that any increased media attention regarding this case could hinder progress made so far and could be disadvantageous to Mr Asghar.”

There is also a note of a meeting on February 19 between Mr Yousaf and Mr Asghar's family in which he agreed to speak to a Scotland Office Minister "to discuss the case and what further steps can be taken by both Governments."

READ MORE: Yousaf denies deliberately skipping gay marriage vote

During the SNP leadership contest, Mr Asghar’s daughter, Jasmine, praised Mr Yousaf, saying he helped secure her father’s eventual return to Scotland in 2016. 

The statement, released through solicitor Aamer Anwar, said: “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 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 be grateful.” 

The Herald:

Equal marriage unexpectedly became a key issue during the SNP leadership contest after Kate Forbes said she would not have backed the legislation had she been in parliament at the time.

Mr Yousaf criticised his colleague, leading to scrutiny of his own voting record. 

Last night, a spokesman for Mr Yousaf told The Herald: “The First Minister was proud to vote for the equal marriage bill at Stage 1 – and made clear he would have voted for it at Stage 3 were he available to do so.

"The meeting that took place on 4th February was publicly disclosed at the time. Mr Asghar’s family have recently issued a statement praising Mr Yousaf for his role in securing Mr Asghar’s release.”