Christian Youth Charged with Blasphemy in Pakistan Wins Bail

On Thursday, March 14, an 18-year-old Christian, Ashbeel Ghauri, was granted bail after being detained for a period of solitary confinement lasting one week. Ghauri attributed his endurance throughout this challenging time to his faith. His arrest on March 6 stemmed from allegations made by Sheraz Gulistan, a former peer, who claimed that Ghauri had committed acts of blasphemy against Islam during a WhatsApp group conversation in January. The charges against Ghauri were filed under Section 295-A of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which address offenses related to the insult of religious beliefs, carrying penalties of up to ten years in prison, a fine, or both.

In a statement, Ghauri expressed that he had not anticipated that his attempts to defend his Christian beliefs and resist pressure from former classmates to convert to Islam would lead to his persecution. “I did not utter any disparaging remarks about the Islamic faith throughout the discussions. However, I did pose questions that evidently provoked the Muslim participants.”

Ghauri, who identifies as an introvert, dedicated the majority of his incarceration period to the study of the Bible and other religious texts, coupled with prayer. He expressed a deep affection for Jesus Christ and a strong sense of pride in his Christian faith. However, he found it unsettling when Sheraz and others questioned aspects of Christ’s life. Ghauri’s interest in exploring various religions, including Islam, has equipped him with the knowledge to counter critiques against Christianity using scholarly references.

He noted that discussions became particularly tense following the outbreak of conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip last October. “Sheraz had a habit of denouncing Israel each time the subject arose,” Ghauri recounted. “His derogatory remarks towards what I consider God’s chosen people deeply offended me, leading me to rebuke him, which I believe further aggravated him.”

Ghauri was transferred to Attock jail on a judicial remand on March 7. He reported that, apart from a single incident, the police treated him respectfully during his custody. “All but one constable conducted themselves professionally,” he mentioned. Recounting the exception, Ghauri described an instance where, en route to the magistrate’s court for his judicial remand, a constable applied the handcuffs excessively tightly, causing him discomfort. Upon voicing his discomfort, the constable retorted that the tightness was justified given the accusations against Ghauri.

Prison authorities assigned Ghauri to solitary confinement rather than the communal barracks typically reserved for individuals accused of blasphemy. “During my isolation, I devoted myself to prayer and scripture reading, specifically focusing on the Bible. I also undertook a fast for three days. Throughout this challenging period, I drew considerable strength from a verse in Joshua 1:5, where the Lord promises Joshua, ‘As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you,'” Ghauri shared.

Expressing his future aspirations in the field of computer sciences, Ghauri reflected on the familial bonds he longed for while detained. “The separation from my family was deeply felt, particularly the absence of my younger brother, who is not only a sibling but my closest confidant,” he remarked. “Memories of the times he would invite me to engage in football and various activities frequently occupied my thoughts. The joy of being granted the opportunity to reunite with my family is truly a blessing from God.”

Ghauri also noted that the experience of incarceration, a common plight for those accused of blasphemy, often enduring extended periods before trial conclusions, served to profoundly reinforce his commitment to his Christian beliefs.

Reflecting on his ordeal, Ghauri remarked, “This experience has not only fortified my faith but also endowed me with greater wisdom and patience. The uncertainty surrounding the resolution of this case persists, yet it has unequivocally reinforced my conviction in Christ as my redeemer.”

His father, Babar Ghauri, shared the family’s anxiety over the bail petition with evident relief. “Despite our unwavering faith in divine intervention for Ashbeel’s release, the anticipation of the bail outcome was fraught with concern, especially considering the challenging nature of securing bail in blasphemy cases, regardless of the offense being eligible for bail,” he conveyed. “Our joy and gratitude towards God’s merciful act upon our family are immense. We are equally appreciative of the Christian legal team from Lahore to Attock for their indispensable legal assistance.”

He also recounted the police’s advice on the day of his son’s detention, underscoring the gravity of their situation. “Authorities cautioned us about potential security threats, advising us to seek refuge in a relative’s home until the initial turmoil abated. Even on the day we collected Ashbeel from the prison, we were instructed to discreetly transport him from the premises, highlighting the continuous need for caution,” Babar Ghauri elaborated.

Babar Ghauri articulated ongoing concerns for his family’s safety pending his son’s exoneration. “Our fervent prayers and hopes are that he may swiftly return to his academic pursuits, unburdened by the fear of further harm,” he stated.

The family’s legal representative, Nadeem Hassan, reported that Attock Judicial Magistrate Syed Naseer Abbas approved Ashbeel’s release on bail, which was secured through surety bonds valued at 100,000 rupees (approximately US$358). “The commencement of the trial awaits the police’s submission of the complete challan (charge sheet) to the court. Consequently, the timeframe for securing Ashbeel’s acquittal remains uncertain,” Hassan informed.

Hassan, associated with the Christians True Spirit legal aid group, highlighted the security risks faced by the Ghauri family. “A Muslim individual, closely allied with Babar Ghauri and instrumental in submitting the surety bonds for Ashbeel, has faced threats from unidentified callers subsequent to lodging his property documents in court as a guarantee,” Hassan disclosed.

The Center for Social Justice (CSJ), a Lahore-based advocacy organization, reported that in 2023, a total of 329 individuals were implicated under Pakistan’s contentious blasphemy laws. This demographic includes 247 Muslims, 65 Ahmadis, 11 Christians, and one Hindu, with the religious affiliations of five others remaining unspecified.

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