We must support ‘Esha’

I recently blogged about ‘Esha’, a young woman facing blasphemy charges in Pakistan.

Some of you have been asking questions about the case so here is more information from rights activist and journalist Rahila Gupta who is raising money for her case. Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain supports ‘Esha’s’ case and has donated money to her legal fund. Please help if you can – even if it’s not very much. Every little bit helps:

Over a year ago, a friend of mine, a British Pakistani actor got in touch with me after his annual visit home to Lahore.  He was very troubled by a blasphemy case that he had come across which appeared to have blighted the lives of two young people who had neither contacts nor money without which it is impossible to get out of a sticky situation in countries like Pakistan. He knew I was a long term member of Southall Black Sisters and wondered if I could help. But our funding covers services to women facing domestic violence in this country and only stretches to the Asian sub-continent if British Asian women have been abducted there in order to be forced into a marriage or abandoned there so that British Asian men may marry again. The fate of a young Pakistani woman languishing in a prison on false charges of blasphemy lay outside our remit, although not outside the bounds of our sympathy and solidarity. As I listened to the story and then spoke to ‘Mo’ and read the legal papers, I was very moved by their plight and decided I would do what I could to support them as an individual but with the support of all the contacts that SBS had forged in its 35 years of existence, including Maryam Namazie and the Council for Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB).

‘Esha’ was arrested in March 2012 for having torn up the pages of the Qu’ran. Although I disagree with the whole notion of blasphemy and find it ridiculous that a legal case should be fought on the basis of whether she did or she didn’t, what is worse is that she didn’t even do it. She had an argument with a friend of hers who then shopped her to the authorities. It is a common way of settling scores in countries like Pakistan. I have provided some of the statistics in another article. Her friend is prepared to drop the case if Esha pays her £20,000 and gets her a job in Dubai – none of which is within Esha’s reach.

Since her arrest in 2012, Esha has lost every single bail application (four times so far). At one hearing of her case, she was attacked by some extremists so all future hearings take place in prison for her protection! This means that Mo does not get to see her at all. He is not allowed to visit her in prison because he is not related to her.  Before he went into hiding, they would meet in court. They have been unable to hire the best lawyers and Esha has been represented by people who appear to be just going through the motions.

The one bit of luck they have had so far is that Mo was put in touch with an influential Reuters journalist who knows one of the most well-known human rights lawyers in Pakistan, Asma Jahangir, who has agreed to represent Esha in her bail hearings for free. This is a turning point because the treatment that Esha is getting in prison has affected her mental health and she has already attempted suicide twice. Asma has agreed to take it all the way up to the Supreme Court, if necessary, where she believes Esha will be successful. This process should take till September 2015.

Meanwhile there is the question of her actual trial. She has found an extremely good lawyer, at long last. He has agreed to take on her case for an extremely reasonable fee. In a country where lawyers and other supporters of ‘apostates’ have been killed, many charge the high fees to pay for protection. However, the case has to make its way up again from the lower courts where the judges are too afraid for their lives and it is bound to fail. In the last three years of legal proceedings, there have been five judges and the decision is still pending.

However, even reasonable fees are beyond the reach of Esha and Mo. Esha has no family support. Her father married again and her stepmother has ensured that her father has cut off all contacts. In any case, anybody supporting someone like Esha is branded a kaffir and attracts the wrath of the extremists. Mo is in hiding and cannot work. His family have cut him off because they feel that he’s wasting his life.

When I first started supporting the case, I was inspired by the case of the Sudanese woman, Meriam Ibrahim who was released from prison where she was held on charges of apostasy after a worldwide blitz of publicity and American pressure. We thought that publicity would help Esha and Mo too. However, the advice I received subsequently from human rights organisations was that Mo’s life would be in even greater danger. After all, Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman in prison in Pakistan since 2009, received massive publicity and look where that got her. She is still in prison and is sentenced to die by hanging. Her husband has fled the country because of threats to his life. So Esha and Mo are pseudonyms but their stories are real.

Of course, the whole system needs to be demolished. But every individual that escapes the clutches of this system hopefully helps to weaken it. This is why I have started a fundraising drive. This is why Maryam Namazie and CEMB are supporting this case.  All of us have campaigned against religious fundamentalism as we have seen the impact of it on the vulnerable sections of our communities: women, LGBT communities and other religious minorities.

I hope you will be able to contribute something, however small, to this fundraising drive. Please go to this link if you can support Esha’s case.

Support 24 year old Esha in Pakistani prison charged with blasphemy

4135696_1428760585.3251“Esha” a 24 year old woman has been cut off from the world in her prime and is languishing in a Pakistani prison for the last three years on false charges of blasphemy brought against her by her best friend after they had an argument. She stands accused of having torn pages from the Qur’an and having slept on them. Although there have been several hearings, her trial  is still pending  for a complex variety of reasons – one of them being that there have been five different judges, each fearing for his life. You can read more about her here.

She has no family to take an interest in her except for a dedicated young man, “Mo”, whom she met on a visit to court and who, on hearing her story and seeing her isolation, has been trying to support her. Blasphemy is a serious offence in a deeply religious country like Pakistan and punishable by death. Blasphemy laws have been used to persecute minorities like the Christians or to settle personal scores. Several prominent people have been killed  for supporting those accused of blasphemy. Only recently a Christian couple were burnt alive for allegedly desecrating the Qur’an.

“Mo” has gone into hiding after he  received death threats. He is unable to work now and therefore, unable to raise the kind of fees that are charged by lawyers. For this kind of case, the fees are extremely high because of the danger posed to anyone associated with it. This is why we cannot use their real names.

She is being sexually harassed by the superintendent of the prison. As she has rejected his advances, he has withdrawn all basic privileges such as medicines, visitors, even a  mattress to sleep on. She is locked up 24/7 in a cell that is not heated in the winter and not cooled in the summer when temperatures can reach a baking 45c! She has attempted suicide twice and her poor mental health is a cause of real worry. She has stomach ulcers, skin allergies and kidney problems as well.

“Esha” and “Mo” are completely trapped.  ‘Esha’ says ‘I have lost all faith in society. I have been cut off from life, from the world, from education. I have lost the will to live.’

Although it is vital to Esha’s mental health that she leaves  prison, if her bail hearing is successful, neither of them have any money even for rent or food. Mo’s own family feel he’s wasting his life and are threatening to cut him off.  He says, ‘I was 27 when I met Esha. I have spent all my life savings on her. My life is in danger from extremists and I have lost family, friends and peace of mind. Why am I doing this?’

This money will go towards Esha’s legal fees and associated expenses for a lawyer who is highly recommended. “Mo” is desperate to get the legal case on the road before “Esha’s” next attempt on her life.

Please donate as generously as you can.  The money will be used to pay legal fees and welfare costs.

Thank you!

Finally a good use for the burka

A mild mannered teacher becomes the burka avenger when her school is threatened with being shut down by Islamists, armed with pens and books:

Finally a good use for the burka…

You can find out more about the TV programme being shown in Pakistan here.

(Via Monica Lanfranco)

Atheist Saeed Khalid must not be deported to Pakistan

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain is supporting ‘apostate’ Khalid Saeed’s demand for asylum in Sweden. We are astonished to hear he has been refused asylum and urge the Swedish authorities to reconsider and grant him protection.

Mr Saeed is a long-time member of our organisation. We are an organisation made up of people who have publicly renounced Islam in order to break the taboo that comes with doing so. Although, we in the west are free to make such decisions, notwithstanding the threats and intimidation, in other countries, specifically in this case Pakistan. Given the high exposure of our organisation as well as the well-founded fear of persecution he faces, we believe his life would be in danger if he were to be returned to his country of origin. Mr Saeed has already been attacked for his views on Islam in Pakistan and fears for his safety and life if he is forcibly returned.

To support Mr Khalid’s right to refuge, please sign the petition here.