An elderly Pakistani doctor's life reportedly hangs in the balance after he was arrested and charged with blasphemy under the country's strict religious laws last month.
While Masood Ahmad likely won't be given the death penalty based on the charges waged against him, one of his daughters told the BBC that his health is fragile and that his "life is at risk."
A screen shot from the secret video that led to Masood Ahmad's arrest (Image source: BBC)
Ahmad, 72, was detained in December after men arrived at his clinic posing as patients and secretly recorded him reading a verse from the Koran, Cross Map reported.
As a result, Ahmad, a member of the Ahmadiyya community, a minority Islamic reformist group, has been accused of "posing as a Muslim."
Problems began when the two faux patients purposefully engaged the doctor in a conversation about religion. They received medicine from Ahmad and then somehow tricked him into reading the verse.
He was subsequently arrested and refused bail after the cell phone footage was presumably taken to authorities.
According to Cross Map, Ahmad is now is awaiting trial, as angry citizens assemble outside the courthouse with calls for him to face the death penalty.
Understanding the political and cultural dynamics in Pakistan helps explain why Ahmad was detained. Ahmadis are not considered part of the Islamic faith under Pakistani law. While adherents revere the Koran, they have officially been viewed as non-Muslims since 1984.
Part of the legal drama centers on the fact that they see Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, their group's founder, as a prophet -- a notion mainstream Muslims scoff at. So, the law has discriminated against these reformist Muslims for decades. They are even disallowed from publicly calling themselves a part of the Islamic faith.
"An Ahmadi who refers to his faith as Islam, or preaches or propagates his faith, or invites others to accept his faith, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims will be punished with up to three years in prison and is liable to pay a fine," reads Pakistan Penal Code 298- C.
Considering the environment surrounding Ahmadis in Pakistan, it's no surprise that Ahmad told the BBC he felt marked even before his arrest.
"Somebody had painted a black mark on my car and outside my house a few weeks before I was arrested, so I knew I was being watched," he said.
Ahmad has both U.K. and Pakistani citizenship and has seven children living throughout Australia and the U.K., though he has resided in Pakistan for decades.
Image source: Shutterstock.com
Sophia Ahmad, one of his daughters, is communicating with British officials in hopes of helping her father get a fair trial. She told the BBC that he is recovering from cancer and needs medication.
"We are very worried for him," she said last month.
Global Minorities Alliance, a human-rights group based in Glasgow, Scotland, is joining other human rights advocates in calling for his release.
"We call on the Pakistan government to better protect its minorities to stop people like Mr. Ahmad from being imprisoned over very trivial matters," Shahid Khan, vice-chairperson of Global Minorities Alliance, said. "We also demand that the government repeal anti-Ahmadiyya legislation. People are having their livelihoods destroyed and their families left devastated, all because they said the wrong thing to the wrong person and live in a country governed by laws which are used to persecute rather than prosecute."
Khan went on to note that Ahmad's plight is particularly tragic because it involved a private conversation about religion in which the doctor reportedly had no idea he was being recorded.
Ahmadis regularly face violence and persecution in Pakistan. Some extremists even tell their followers that there is a special place in heaven for those willing to murder a member of the minority group, the Telegraph reported.
So far, the Pakistani government has not complied with calls for justice.
(H/T: Cross Map)
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com