Thousands of people, both Christian and Muslim, have been terrorized by Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Sarfraz A., 40, a Muslim, was arrested after being accused of blasphemy by a local cleric. For weeks after his arrest, his family did not know what had happened to him. Sarfraz spent almost a year and a half in jail. Thanks to CSI’s help, Sarfraz is now free on bail and has opened an electrical store with his brother.
Sarfraz A. spent almost a year and a half in jail. csi
Sarfraz was always a very sensitive person. But when his wife left him after only two years of marriage, the then 25-year-old fell into a deep depression. His family would have liked him to see a therapist. However, because of his father’s untimely death, they did not have the financial means to pay for one.
As his mental health declined, Sarfraz started to let himself go. His hair grew long and his appearance was unkempt. Increasingly, he talked to himself and would spend days on end on the streets.
Targeted by a religious leader
One day in 2020, Sarfraz had gone to drink tea at a nearby shopping mall when suddenly a mosque leader approached him, called him a blasphemer, and started beating him. The police turned up and took Sarfraz away for questioning. From the police station, Sarfraz was sent straight to jail, where he was charged with blasphemy.
For two months, Sarfraz’s mother and brother Fiaz did not know what had happened. They feared that Sarfaz was dead. Then, one Friday when his mother was at the mosque, someone who had seen Sarfraz in court told her that he was in prison. This came as a huge shock for the family.
Motives behind blasphemy charge
When Fiaz confronted the mullah who had accused his brother, the mullah told him, “God has chosen me to denounce him so that I may have a house in paradise.”
The same mullah who accused Sarfraz has also accused two other people of blasphemy. His motivation appears to be to gain popularity on social media.
Safraz’s family had to relocate for their own safety, after the mullah threatened to march on their house with hundreds of supporters. “Who will protect you? I will disgrace you in your house,” the mullah told them.
A climate of impunity
Sarfraz’s case illustrates how Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have created a climate of impunity for religious terror. Bad actors can easily weaponize false blasphemy accusations, which are difficult to disprove and quickly become flashpoints for religious conflict.
In this system, religious minorities, people of low social status, and people who are already struggling with mental health or disabilities are particularly vulnerable.
Under Section 295 of Pakistan’s Penal Code, blasphemy is a capital offense. Since Pakistan’s current blasphemy laws came into force in 1987, nearly 2,000 people have been accused of blasphemy; 78 people have been extrajudicially murdered after being accused.
Release and a new start
CSI provided legal support for Sarfraz during his 17-month imprisonment. In 2022, Sarfraz was finally released on bail. The charges against him remain in place, however, and his bail could be cancelled at any time.
Thanks to financial support from CSI, Sarfraz and Fiaz were able to open a business repairing electronic equipment. Now they are able to look ahead. “We are very grateful to Allah for sending you to help us,” they say.
CSI supports the victims of blasphemy accusations in Pakistan with legal and financial aid. We call on the Pakistani authorities to repeal these blasphemy laws, which are incompatible with binding international human rights conventions, and to release all those currently imprisoned on blasphemy charges.