NOTE: Updates to this story are posted at the end of the page.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws protect ideology over individuals, often resulting in abuse which amounts to legalized terrorism. The nation’s penal code criminalizes acts, speech, and even inferred innuendo which run contrary to revering Islam. According to Section 295C of the Pakistan’s penal code, the crime calls for a mandatory death sentence. Pakistan’s provisions inherently violate international standards of freedom of religion or belief, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s [USCIRF] in its most recent report to the US State Department. “Accusers are not required to present any evidence that blasphemy occurred,” the report notes, “which leads to abuse, including false accusations.” The Pakistani government has even recently petitioned Facebook and Twitter to help identify Pakistanis living beyond its borders who it suspects of blasphemy so that it may prosecute them or pursue their extradition.
Ahmed (his name changed for security purposes), a strong and influential evangelical leader involved in Christian ministry across Pakistan, now sits in the crosshairs of this law. He was charged with blasphemy in late October 2017, even though the warrant for his arrest did not specify what acts or words constituted the alleged blasphemy, nor what date it occurred, nor where. Ahmed does not believe he even has ever met the man who is listed as his accuser. His trial began in November and has continued into December.
“Miraculously, [the Lord] gave me strength and energy to face all this with a big heart,” Ahmed said prior to his first hearing. “I am ready for any kind of test and crown.” He retains a vibrant attitude, reminiscent of the Apostle Paul’s sentiments in Philippians 1:20-21; following his second hearing in his case, he announced, “I am willing to die for the Lord, but I am also eager to continue living for him and advancing the gospel in Pakistan.”
In recent years, accusations of blasphemy against Islam have sparked international controversies and played part in incidents of mob violence and assassinations of prominent figures. Often the laws are used to settle personal scores and have little or nothing to do with religion. While evangelical Christians make up less than one percent of the population in Pakistan, they bear a disproportionately large brunt of the impact of the blasphemy laws.
About 40 people are currently on Pakistan’s death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy according to the USCIRF. However, increasingly those who are accused of blasphemy simply never live long enough to see their case defended in court; vigilantes and mobs often take the law into their own hands. At least 69 people inside Pakistan have been killed by mobs over alleged blasphemy since 1990.
FMI is mobilizing Christians around the world to stand with Ahmed. Below are a few of the ways you can personally join his support team:
- Pray for Ahmed, his family, and those involved in the legal process. (Click here if you would like to receive FMI’s Quarterly Prayer Targets.)
- Ask God to give the new judge courage to pursue true justice in this case and not bow to social pressures.
- Pray that the prosecution is thwarted in any attempt to fabricate evidence, prop up false witnesses, or physically harm Ahmed and his family or Ahmed’s defense attorney.
- Intercede for the emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being of Ahmed and his family. Pray that Satan’s darts which aim to cause this brother or his family to doubt God’s goodness or faithfulness or give in to discouragement would constantly fail in their effectiveness.
- Pray for God to continue to grant wisdom, insight, and courage to Ahmed’s defense attorney.
- Ask the Sovereign Lord to move in the hearts and minds of Pakistani government to reform the penal code and justice system in regard to blasphemy laws which are so prone to blatant abuse.
- Send a note of encouragement to Ahmed through FMI. Send an email to our office through our Contact Us page to share your message, prayers, and verses to uplift Ahmed and we will relay it to him.
- Share the financial burden of Ahmed’s defense. FMI established Project Advocacy through which you can help underwrite the expense.
UPDATE, Nov. 11: While the legal case seemed to have been moving in Ahmed’s favor, a setback came on Friday from beyond the court system when a fatwa (religious edict) was issued against Ahmed across Pakistan with the instruction, “Wherever you find him, kill him, and embrace Paradise.” Thus Muslim members of the public are now mandated to kill Ahmed on sight, even if the judge dismisses the case as baseless and lets him go free.
UPDATE, Nov. 23: The fourth hearing in Ahmed’s trial has concluded, but still no evidence against Ahmed has been provided. Accusers continue to bring rioters into the courtroom, and it has taken hours for security forces to clear them. Both the judge and Ahmed’s defense attorney have been threatened by the accusers. Ahmed remains strong spiritually, physically, and mentally. He is grateful by all the assurances of prayers and messages of encouragement he has received from around the world. Options are being considered to evacuate his family from Pakistan in order to find asylum elsewhere. The date for a fifth hearing will be announced later.
UPDATE, Dec. 10: At the end of November, the prosecution presented some Christian literature to the court as evidence of Ahmed’s alleged blasphemy, although they never demonstrated that his accusers received this literature from Ahmed. After a representative of the court fully reviewed the literature, he reported in early December that the literature did not contain even a single offense against Islam; it only told information about Jesus. Therefore, the judge dismissed this literature as any evidence of blasphemy against Islam. The accusers again threatened the judge, saying he will “face consequences” for acting favorably toward a Christian – a not so subtle threat against his life. The judge is very nervous at this time in light of the country’s current social climate. (In recent weeks, Pakistan’s courts and parliament have been at severe odds with the nation’s military and a newly formed political party over issues of blasphemy.)
UPDATE, Dec. 14: Bowing to threats against his life from Ahmed’s accusers, the judge has withdrawn himself from the blasphemy trial; Pakistan’s high court has appointed a new judge for the case. Ahmed’s defense attorney has serious reservations about this new judge as his “reputation in court is not very good.” Earlier this week, the embassy of the country where Ahmed was hoping to relocate his family for safety has denied him a travel visa without providing a reason for its refusal. Despite these developments, Ahmed remains in good spirits, saying “I am very positive with the Lord’s plan for this trial even if I do not see it all right now. He is in charge, and I trust him.”
UPDATE: Dec. 24: With the assignment of a new judge to Ahmed’s legal proceedings, the trial is essentially in re-start mode. Decisions made by the previous judge (such as determining evidence presented to be baseless and therefore dismissed) are now moot. The defense attorney asked the judge to assure Ahmed’s safety while appearing at the court, but this was denied. The attorneys for both the prosecution and defense have a private meeting on Tuesday with the judge and his assistant to set new parameters. Ahmed has personally taken several precautions for his safety in light of the fatwa against him and this new trial. (It is interesting to note that in a separate blasphemy trial, the Federal Investigation Agency on Friday, Dec. 22, informed the Islamabad High Court it could find no evidence against five bloggers who had been accused of blasphemy earlier in the year. Furthermore, the judge in this case seemed to express remorse for defendants who have been unjustly accused of blasphemy; Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui remarked that those who make false accusations of blasphemy against others commit a crime twice as heinous as blasphemy.)
UPDATE: Jan. 15: The new judge has upheld Ahmed’s constitutional right to not be present during the trial and instead be represented solely by his defense attorney, saying that he (the judge) understands the physical danger Ahmed would be in if he were to appear at the court. Privately, the judge has also noted that he understands the evidence which was previously submitted and determined to be baseless is indeed baseless. Despite these positive movements in the case, the trial will most likely last a few more months. During this time, Ahmed is free to be with his family and continue his ministry. Ahmed is trying to gain asylum for his family outside of Pakistan as they live under the constant threat of persecution due to the fatwa issued against him.
Check back a few times each month to get the latest updates on Ahmed’s situation.