You should read this. It’s a moving and disturbing story about Kamran Rizvi, who has gone from a political prisoner of the dictator General Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan to a human rights adviser to Benazir Bhutto to an impoverished immigrant working at a gas station in America. It includes this story:
In 1995, when Benazir Bhutto was prime minister, Rizvi wanted to dilute the provisions of the blasphemy law under which any perceived insult to the Quran could mean a jail term for years, and was often misused by people to get rivals out of the way. A court had recently sentenced three Christians to death under this act. Among the convicted was a 14 year old. The case got wide media attention, including in the international press.
“We must save these guys,” Bhutto told Rizvi, on a hot summer day in May before she left for a tour of Europe. He agreed. There was ample evidence that the local land mafia had created a fictitious case against these hapless Christians. With connivance of the local police, these elements wanted to get the three out of the way to grab the land and build a mall. The charge was that they had insulted Islam, a broad allegation without evidence.
Rizvi worked with government lawyers to file an appeal. A couple of months later, just as he was about to leave for lunch, he got a call. A group of German officials from the embassy wanted to see him.
He decided to make it quick. Instead, that meeting went on for more than an hour. The Germans had decided to offer asylum to the three men. They were especially concerned about the boy.
Rizvi went home after that to have a quick lunch with his wife, Nasreen. He decided to ask her opinion, as he had on several occasions. “What do you think will happen at the courts? They always convict people accused of blasphemy. If you want to save them, let them go,” she said. Rizvi agreed.
Discretion was key – otherwise, extremist elements would try their best to stop the three from getting out of Pakistan. The government lawyers had succeeded in getting bail for the three people – and they had been given police protection during this time. Rizvi had urged the complainant to take back the complaint.
Rizvi called up his driver and instructed him to go straight to the German embassy. A plan was made – the three men would board a flight to Frankfurt in a week. On that day, Rizvi’s secretary, Tauqir Khan, went to the house where the three were put up and took them to the airport. They were put in the plane. Rizvi had earlier talked to Bhutto – she had agreed to the plan. Before leaving the boy hugged Rizvi. “You saved me,” he said and then was off. Moments later the flight took off to Bonn. He’s certain that his involvement saved their lives. “It was,” he says, “a very satisfying feeling.”
But word got around that he had arranged for them to get out of the country and he was then targeted by Muslim extremists. Mullahs issued fatwas ordering him to be killed. He and his family fled to the United States and were granted asylum, but he could not find work with any of the human rights organizations he applied with. He ended up working an overnight shift at a 7/11. He’s managed to find work to support himself now, but it’s tragic that someone who did so much to fight for human rights in a country where that concept is foreign has been subject to such hardship.