LAHORE: In year 2010, Mian Irshad* was acquitted in a blasphemy case by the Lahore High Court. Despite the court order, Irshad’s life has resembled that of a fugitive since then.
In 2004, Irshad – who had accepted the Ahmadi faith a few years back – was taken to a local cleric in his village in central Punjab by his father. Irshad’s father wanted him to revert back to Islam. The cleric tried to persuade him but to no avail. On Irshad’s refusal, the cleric then nominated him in a case under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
Irshad tried to evade the police for a while but was told by his community elders to present himself before the authorities and fight a legal battle.
Life in prison
Leaving behind a wife and a toddler with the same family which ostracized him for converting, Irshad moved from one jail to another. Eventually, he requested the court to put him in a prison with better security because the militants in some prisons posed a threat to him.
He was then moved to a central jail, which had many criminals and terrorists but also enough security to keep Irshad and other blasphemy convicts safe.
During his confinement, Irshad said he avoided confrontation with prisoners who provoked him – many of whom were militants.
“[Blasphemy accused avoid feuds] because very cruel methods of beating were used, for instance hot oil was poured over people during fights; I escaped such beatings by keeping myself busy with chores, reading or staying with other blasphemy accused men.”
After six difficult years in prison, Irshad was proved innocent with the help of human rights organisations and the support of the Ahmadi community. The community helps its members through litigation when they are accused of blasphemy or charged under the Anti-Ahmadi Ordinance XX 1984 of the PPC.
Irshad is one of the 299 Ahmadi individuals who have been accused of blasphemy since April 1984, as per the data compiled by the Ahmadi community.
Family of the accused
Away from her husband, Irshad’s wife was living at the mercy of the relatives and villagers. Irshad’s wife Jamila* said the family members and villagers did not treat her “like a human”. Eventually she was taken in by her parents till the time of her husband’s release.
“People only paid heed to what the cleric said, despite the fact that we had lived together in that village for years.”
Life beyond prison
Since Irshad’s acquittal, he has not stepped outside the town where he now lives. He supports his wife and two sons only through menial jobs because of a fatwa against him which bars him from working elsewhere.
Irshad’s case is a peculiar one as he is not just any non-Muslim falsely accused of blasphemy but an Ahmadi. He said that the only way he can support his family in a better way is by leaving Pakistan.
The Ahmadi community in Pakistan is not merely persecuted as a religious minority but is openly targeted across Pakistan. And in the current situation, where blasphemy accused or suspects are lynched openly, different incidents show that a blasphemy accused of the Ahmadi faith can either live a secret hidden life or leave the country.
“This kind of hatred will destroy not only the targeted community but it will destroy Pakistan,” said the Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) Secretary General IA Rehman. He added that the appeasement and fear of the state will haunt them and if they think that the extremist elements will not find them, then they are wrong.
*The name of the interviewees have been changed to protect their identities.