I am a refugee claimant in Canada. This essay goes in great detail about why I am asking for asylum in the West.
Thank you to those who contributed the numerous sources. I hope that, at the very least, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada adds these resources to their national documentation package.
Isaac Schrödinger: An Apostate and a Blasphemer
I was born in an Ahmadi Muslim family in Pakistan. I’m a Pakistani citizen. The attack on the United States on September 11, 2001 and the reactions of Muslims to it changed my mindset. I left Islam in January of 2002.
I didn't share that information with anyone at the time. I was scared of the consequences. My family lived in Saudi Arabia and I traveled to that country every summer and during Christmas break. Upon entering Arabia, I would have to fill out an entry card which required one to specify their religion. My Pakistani passport clearly states that my religion is Islam and I didn't dare contradict that. So, for a long time, I kept my "unnatural" thoughts and beliefs to myself.
I haven’t traveled to Saudi Arabia since the end of 2003. In 2004, I had to apply for a national identity card. Again, I was asked for my religion and again I gave in and wrote Islam on the form. In 2005, I completed the application for a new passport and gave the same answer out of fear. I started blogging in December of 2004 under a pseudonym -- Isaac Schrödinger. On September 11, 2005, I explicitly wrote about my apostasy on my blog.
On October 8, 2005, I linked to and showcased a cartoon that was published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on September 30, 2005. The contents of the small post follow:
The prophet of the Religion of PeaceTM.
Note, I wrote that before the cartoon-rage-mayhem that erupted around the globe a few months later.
In January of 2006, I published a message for the citizens of Denmark:
If you're from Denmark, then know this:
Don't give in to the psychotic thugs and regimes of the Muslim world. These are the same people who keep half their population as slaves, hang homosexuals, behead alcohol consumers, treat kids with utter cruelty, "think" that Jews rule the world, and celebrate when Westerners are ruthlessly murdered. And yet they're offended by a few harmless cartoons.
It is you--the Danes--who should be appalled at the atrocious and wretched behaviour of such an odious section of humanity. Do not apologize for your exercises in freedom. Do not sacrifice your free speech at the altar of deplorable Muslim feelings.
Cherish your precious liberty and stand tall against these barbarians.
Want to see Muhammed? Here you go:
That image of the so-called Prophet Muhammed was to become very popular. In fact, if one were to search Google Images for "Muhammed", then the cartoon from my blog would show up as the first link out of about 19,900 results.
On April 3, 2006, I published a post about how Muhammed allowed, and was pleased with, the murder of a Jewish tribe. At the end of the post, I wrote:
It is vitally important that the West not put Islam or any other religion off-limits to critical analysis. For only in the West can a person safely write that the obliteration of a Jewish tribe, the taking of sex-slaves, and the confiscation of non-Muslim property is something not to be celebrated and emulated.
As one can see, I have a deeply negative opinion of Muhammed. I do not think that he was a Prophet and I think that he provides a shockingly immoral example to humanity.
Muhammed was a profoundly superstitious man. For example, a small matter such as selling dogs was considered illegal by him. (On September 8, 2006, the Mutaween in Saudi Arabia – the religious police – banned the sale of dogs and cats.) More significantly, I can’t agree with what Muhammed said about legal killings:
Narrated ‘Abdullah: Allah's Apostle said, "The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims."
I, of course, don't think that anyone should be killed for either leaving a faith or for criticizing a religious figure.
[…] the great ex-Muslim Ibn Warraq noted in a statement read for him last year  before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (he could not appear in person because of threats on his life arising from the same Islamic principles): "The very notion of apostasy has vanished from the West… There are certainly no penal sanctions for converting from Christianity to any other religion." However, one who leaves Islam, he explains, "can be seen as someone unnatural, subverting the natural course of things whose apostasy is a wilful and obstinate act of treason against God and the one and only true creed, and a betrayal and desertion of the community." Thus his death is to be actively sought, so as to erase the stain on the community.
Azam Kamguian, an Iranian ex-Muslim, writes:
The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible. We must win the right to criticize the religion without fear of retribution. Criticism, free speech, is the foundation of an open society. We need to criticise and use reason to solve our problems. No belief, rational or irrational, scientific or divinely inspired, should be exempt from critical examination. If a belief is sound it will stand on its own merits. If it is not it deserves to fail. No religion should seek immunity from the examination of its claims, or seek freedom from moral criticism of its practices.
To the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada: On September 9, 2006, I wrote about my meeting with a Canadian refugee officer. I said that the time for my hearing was set in early January 2007 and I directly quoted a part from the "Screening Form" that was presented to me during the meeting. That should be proof enough that I am Isaac Schrödinger.
and Islamic Opinion on Apostates in Pakistan
From Appendix 1 of the Amnesty International library article on Pakistan in 2001:
The Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) of 1860 dates from the British colonial period; sections 295 and 298 of the PPC relating to religious offences date back to that period and were intended to prevent and curb religiously motivated violence.
Under Zia-ul-Haq, several new sections were inserted in the PPC in the 1980s; they differ significantly from earlier laws relating to religious offences in at least four ways: They do not specifically mention malicious intent to wound religious sensitivities as a condition for an action amounting to a criminal offence, and they provide vastly increased penalties. Moreover, they make specific reference to Islam whereas the earlier laws were intended to protect the religious sentiments of 'any class of people'. There is also a distinct shift in emphasis discernible: the newly introduced sections of the PPC do not make it a criminal offence to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims but rather define the offences in terms of an insult or affront to Islam itself. The offences consist in defiling or insulting the prophet of Islam, his companions and family members and desecrating the Qur'an.
Islamic societies consider their Prophet to be an infallible human. Any criticism of him is considered to be blasphemous. Today, Pakistan, a nation founded for Muslims, has one of the harshest blasphemy laws on the books. Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code states:
Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.
Again, from the Amnesty International article:
In October 1990, the Federal Shariat Court ruled that ''the penalty for contempt of the Holy Prophet ... is death and nothing else''. It also noted that ''no one after the Holy Prophet ... exercised or was authorized [to exercise] the right to reprieve or pardon.'' It directed the Government of Pakistan to affect the necessary legal changes and added, ''in case this is not done by 30 April 1991 the words 'or punishment for life' in section 295-C, PPC, shall cease to have any effect on that date.'' Decisions of the Federal Shariat Court are binding on the government. As the Government of Pakistan did not appeal against the decision within the stipulated period and did not pass relevant legislation, the words 'or punishment for life' continue to appear in section 295C of the PPC but do not have legal force. The only punishment available for anyone convicted of blasphemy under section 295C PPC is death.
International Religious Freedom Report 2005: Pakistan:
Under the country's "blasphemy laws," any speech or action that denigrates Islam or its prophets is punishable by death. In addition, any speech or conduct that injures another's religious feelings is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment. These laws were rarely enforced, and the cases rarely brought to the legal system, when the injury was to a member of a minority religious community. Pressure from societal, religious, or political leaders routinely prevented courts from protecting minority rights. These same pressures forced justices to take strong action against any perceived offense to Sunni Islamic orthodoxy.
Perhaps, the current Pakistani regime will repeal the heinous blasphemy law.
In what appears to be an utter disregard of Pakistani religious minorities’ oft-repeated demand for repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, Pakistan minister for religious affairs Ijaz-ul-Haq [the son of Zia-ul-Haq] has insisted that the country’s blasphemy laws would not be repealed even if 100,000 Christians lost their lives, the Telegraph, based in the UK, has reported.
In a speech to the UN General Assembly, the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, went even further:
It is imperative to end racial and religious discrimination against Muslims and to prohibit the defamation of Islam.
The clerical view on apostasy in Pakistan [Email registration required] is straightforward:
A Muslim convert to Christianity in Afghanistan was saved by subterfuge (it was said he was mentally sick and therefore couldn’t be held accountable under any law for converting to Christianity) by the Kabul government from being done to death, triggering protests from the Islamists who wanted him killed. The clerical view in Pakistan that appeared in the press, too, wanted the man killed. Then Pakistan’s top cleric, Mufti Munib ur Rehman, who chairs the moon-sighting committee on Eid days, came on TV and announced that “if a state is truly Islamic” it would have to kill the apostate.
Persecution of Blasphemers in Pakistan
by the State and the Society
A case of blasphemy was registered against Yousuf Ali, a Sufi mystic and scholar of Islam, by a member of an Islamist organization on 29 March 1997 who claimed that Yousuf Ali had committed ''blasphemy by expressing his determination and views of being the continuity of Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)''. The charges included offences under sections 295A, 295C, 289A, 505(2), 420 and 406 Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). Yousuf Ali was arrested on the same day. When the family received death threats from local religious extremists, Yousuf Ali's wife resigned her post as Associate Professor of economics at a government college and went into hiding along with their children.
The trial of Yousuf Ali was a mockery of justice:
The bias of the presiding judge was apparent throughout the trial. He called the accused Yousuf 'Kassab' [liar]. In the judgment, he said, ''there is no question of taking any sort of lenient view because the accused is proved to be a 'kafir' [infidel] and 'murtid' [apostate] and any sort of 'tauba' [repentance] in such affair cannot be entertained''. Judicial bias in the context of religious issues and with regard to minorities is widespread in Pakistan.
Yousuf Ali was sentenced to death:
After the conviction, Yousuf Ali was taken to a six foot by six foot death cell in Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore where he was held in solitary confinement.
Yousuf Ali was murdered while he was in jail:
The circumstances in which a pistol could be brought into the jail and used against a prisoner in a death cell remain unclear. Local newspapers reported that on 11 June, prisoners from Block Seven, including Yousuf Ali, were shifted to Block One in an unscheduled move. As Yousuf Ali was taken to a cell in Block One, its inmate, Mohammad Tariq alias Mota pulled out a pistol and shot Yousuf Ali dead at point-blank range.
Several men were sentenced to death for blasphemy. Others accused of blasphemy were killed, some in circumstances suggesting official complicity or acquiescence in the killings.
Zahid Mahmood Akhtar was stoned to death in July by a mob after a local Muslim cleric called for his death. He had claimed to be a prophet of Islam, and had been charged with blasphemy but freed on bail by a court in 1997 on account of mental illness. Police took no action for two weeks and then arrested several suspects.
Pakistan’s blasphemy law continued to be abused to imprison people on grounds of religious belief, contributing to a climate in which religiously motivated violence flourished.
The example of Mushtaq Zafar:
In February, Mushtaq Zafar was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen. He was on his way home from the High Court while on bail in a blasphemy case brought against him by his neighbours. In November 2001, a dispute between Mushtaq Zafar and his neighbours apparently resulted in his house being set alight and shots being fired at him, killing a friend of his. The neighbours were arrested for the murder; court proceedings in the case were continuing at the end of the year. However, according to Mushtaq Zafar’s son, the neighbours’ family put pressure on his father to withdraw the murder case and the accusation of blasphemy against him was part of an attempt to intimidate him. Friends and relatives of the neighbours allegedly wrote to religious leaders, demanding Mushtaq Zafar’s death.
At least 25 people were criminally charged with blasphemy and at least six of them remained in detention at the end of 2004. Hostility to anyone charged with blasphemy endangered their lives.
From the same report:
Samuel Masih, a 27-year-old Christian, was arrested in August 2003 and charged with having thrown litter on the ground near a mosque in Lahore. This was deemed an offence under section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which provides up to two years’ imprisonment for defiling a place of worship. Samuel Masih was held in a Lahore prison but transferred to hospital in May, suffering from tuberculosis. He died after his police guard attacked him in the hospital. The police officer stated that he had done his “religious duty”; he was charged with murder.
On April 20, a mob in Spin Khak, Nowshera District, shot and killed Ashiq Nabi after his uncle filed blasphemy charges against him. Nabi allegedly desecrated a copy of the Qur'an during an argument with his wife. Before police could arrest him on the charges, Nabi fled the village. After a local Islamic religious leader issued an edict declaring Nabi an infidel whose punishment should be death, a 400-member mob trapped Nabi in a tree and shot him.
From the same report:
Converts to the Ahmadiyya community were often accused of blasphemy, violations of the anti-Ahmadi laws, or other crimes. The Government arrested and prosecuted such individuals. Conversion to other minority religions generally took place in secret to avoid a societal backlash.
When blasphemy and other religious cases are brought to court, extremists often pack the courtroom and make public threats against an acquittal. Judges and magistrates, seeking to avoid a confrontation with or violence from extremists, often continue trials indefinitely. As a result, those accused of blasphemy often face lengthy periods in jail and are burdened with increased legal costs and repeated court appearances.
6. United Nations Commission on Human Rights. From Point 7:
The Blasphemy Laws in their present form have become a source of victimization and persecution of minorities in the country. Minorities suffer all manner of humiliation through false accusations made under these laws. In the present climate of hate, intolerance and violence in Pakistan, the Blasphemy Laws have become a major tool in the hands of extremist elements to settle personal scores against members of religious minorities, particularly Christians.
From Point 8:
In the present context, lawyers who appear in court on behalf of accused persons in blasphemy cases are the targets of intimidation and threats. The retired Judge of the Lahore High Court, Arif Iqbal Bhatti, who set aside the death sentence passed by the Session Courts in the case of Salamat Masih, and Rehmat Masih was shot and killed by an Islamic extremist. His killer, like that of Manzoor Masih, has not been brought to justice. In view of continuing threats and intimidation, it has become increasingly difficult to engage the services of lawyers to defend cases registered under the Blasphemy Laws.
Point 9 in its entirety:
In the climate of intolerance which prevails and in view of threats and intimidation and the pressures brought on the judiciary, it has become nearly impossible to obtain a fair hearing in Pakistan for those charged under the Blasphemy Laws. In these circumstances, the lower judiciary has often been constrained to accuse and convict persons without proper study of the evidence placed before it. In one case, the Sessions Judge convicted Gul Masih, who was charged under the Blasphemy Laws, and imposed the death sentence on him on the grounds "that the complainant had an outlook of a good Muslim, that he was a college student and that he had a beard". A number of cases are pending under the Blasphemy Laws, including cases against Ayub Masih, Nelson Munawar Rahi, and Catherine Shaheen. In addition, two Islamic religious organizations have announced a prize of PRs. 1.3 million for the killing of Salamat Masih, and Rehmat Masih who are at present living in exile.
At a meeting of the South Asian Union on 1st October 2000, Younus Shaikh suggested that, in the interest of the people of Kashmir, the line of control between the Indian and Pakistani forces should become the international border. This clearly offended a Pakistani officer who responded by saying to Dr Shaikh that "I will crush the heads of those that talk like this". On 3rd October Dr Shaikh was suspended by his college without explanation.
Later that evening, an employee of the Pakistani Foreign Office, who was also one of Dr Shaikh's students, complained to a cleric, saying that on 2nd October in a lecture between 12:00 noon and 12:40 pm, the doctor had made blasphemous remarks about the Prophet of Islam. The cleric filed a complaint with the police. Younus Shaikh was arrested on the evening of 4th October and charged with blasphemy.
The trial of Dr Shaikh, held throughout the summer of 2001, took place in a hostile courtroom packed with Islamic fundamentalists who warned the defence lawyers: "think of your families and children". The final two sessions were held in-camera with gun-toting Pakistani Taliban waiting outside. It was finally established during the trial that the alleged events had never taken place. Nevertheless, on 18th August 2001, Dr Shaikh was found guilty and sentenced to death. Sadly, in Pakistan, such injustices are not uncommon in cases of alleged blasphemy.
The retrial was held over three sessions in November 2003. In the light of the harassment and intimidation suffered by his lawyers at the earlier hearings, and much against the advice of the judge, his colleagues, his family and the members of the diplomatic community present in court, Dr Shaikh decided this time to conduct his own defence. The prosecuting counsel tried to exploit the religious feelings of the court but Dr Shaikh confined his defence to legal arguments and was finally acquitted on 21st November.
A few weeks after his release, Dr. Younus Shaikh fled to Europe. More from the article:
This week, one of Dr Shaikh's supporters, speaking anonymously from Islamabad said:
[…] "It is also a sad reflection on the state and society of Pakistan that even when individuals are exonerated by law of any guilt, they are forced to flee the country for their safety. The state or society is unable or unwilling to provide them protection. Dr. Sheikh was not at all eager to leave the country. If he had a choice he would have stayed with his family and friends. I could see his reluctance to leave the country written large on his face when I accompanied him to the airport."
A Pakistani accused of making blasphemous remarks against Allah and the Prophet Muhammad was stabbed to death in a frenzied attack by two men in front of Muzafargarh district and sessions court on Friday, June 16. According to a press release sent to ANS by a group called At any Cost Jesus Mission, the killers, later identified as Imran and Iqbal, attacked and stabbed Abdul Sattar to death with frequent strikes of knives despite being escorted by police for a court hearing.
Abdul Sataar was detained in police custody under Pakistan blasphemy law. He was accused of passing derogatory remarks against Allah (God) and His Prophet Muhammad.
A Pakistani “blasphemy” suspect has appealed for asylum in Holland after facing police torture and attacks by Muslim extremists for his controversial religious views.
Yasaar Hameed, 36, applied for asylum in late March, meeting Dutch immigration officials for his first hearing on June 7. Still wanted on charges of blasphemy in Pakistan, Hameed told friends in Pakistan that authorities said it would take at least six months to process his application.
Hameed’s wife and two children remain in Pakistan where they face dual insecurity for converting to Christianity and for Hameed being sought as a blasphemy suspect. Hameed and his family converted to Christianity in 2004.
A colleague of Mr. Hameed was killed in 2003:
Mushtaq Zafar – Hameed’s co-defendant in the 2002 blasphemy charge and a political colleague of his – was released on bail in February 2003. On his way home from the courthouse, Zafar was ambushed on the road and killed by “unknown assailants,” daily newspaper Dawn reported on February 7, 2003.
The younger brother of Mr. Hameed was killed in 1998:
In addition to the legal accusations of blasphemy, “there were processions against us,” Hameed recounts. “First they were only in Lahore, and then it spread to the whole of Pakistan. Muslims threw petrol bombs on our houses and killed many of us. I was shot six times.”
Extremists murdered his younger brother – who had become a Christian – in March 1998.
Now living in Holland, Hameed hopes that his wife, 14-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter can soon join him. The Pakistani is living in the Dutch city of Arnhem near the German border.
Last week he underwent surgery to remove a bullet that was lodged in his shoulder from an extremist attack.
“It happened five or six years ago,” Hameed said in a telephone interview from Holland. The asylum seeker has been shot so many times, he said, that he cannot remember which incident left him with the imbedded bullet.
The International Society for Human Rights (IGFM) honored Ranjha Masih, still serving his life sentence, with the newly established Stephen Endowment award in recognition of Masih’s “steadfastness in maintaining his Christian beliefs.”
Masih was arrested on charges of blasphemy in May 1998, allegedly having disfigured an Islamic sign during a funeral procession for former Faisalabad Catholic Bishop John Joseph. Ironically, Bishop Joseph had committed suicide in front of the Faisalabad courthouse to protest Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws.
Masih denied damaging the sign, and police testified in court that its invocation of Muhammad as the prophet of Islam was in perfect condition, lawyer Sindhu told Compass. But the Faisalabad Additional District and Sessions Court sentenced Masih to life imprisonment in April 2003.
Mr. Masih will get no respite even if he’s acquitted:
Masih, his wife and six children may face greater danger if Masih is acquitted.
“In case [Masih] is released, it is to be feared that he, like other acquitted Christian blasphemy prisoners, will have to live in hiding or outside of Pakistan,” an IGFM representative told Compass. “The threat from Islamic extremists and self-proclaimed guardians of sharia, Islamic law, would be too great.”
A Pakistani Christian jailed last week on suspicion of ripping book pages containing Quranic verses appealed to Punjabi police through his lawyer yesterday (September 21) for his case to be cancelled for lack of evidence.
He was implicated in a strange manner:
The young man allegedly tore pages from a tafseer, a book explaining Quranic verses, while stealing several books from a medical clinic in the Madina Town district of Faisalabad last week.
The charges are based on the testimony of Muhammad Ghaffar, who claimed he had carried out the crime with Masih.
More disturbing details:
Charges of blasphemy, whether real or invented, often draw the attention of fanatic Muslim groups, who are quick to take justice into their own hands when they believe a suspect has been unfairly acquitted.
Masih’s parents and 12 siblings were so afraid of negative attention from such groups that they at first refused to visit Masih in prison, lawyer Sindhu said.
Their fears appear to have been well founded.
More than 200 Islamist fanatics attended Masih and Ghaffar’s first hearing before Judicial Magistrate Ghullam Fareed Qurashi in Faisalabad on September 14, Sindhu said.
Extra-judicial killings of blasphemy prisoners in Pakistan are not uncommon.
What I say is no more holy than what an Arab uttered fourteen centuries ago. Muslims, or for that matter anyone, can choose to read and criticize my words. That is the beauty of free expression.
The West, rightly, doesn’t penalize those who don’t follow the orthodox religious views in their community or leave a faith altogether. In fact, one can openly disagree with the teachings of a religious figure without worrying about being thrown in jail.
Unfortunately in Pakistan, those who dare contradict the "perfect" example of the Prophet Muhammed are treated most harshly by both the public and the ruling regime. For the sake of safety, one has to fib on applications that ask for religion and the "unnatural" thoughts have to be kept away from the family and the public view. A single rhetorical slip or an anti-Islamic action is enough for the charge of blasphemy.
I refuse to keep quiet about what I truly think. There is no dignity in denying one’s beliefs for the sake of elusive security.
To the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada: These facts and my statements should be weighed carefully for my life hangs in the balance.