Blogger Ahmed Waqas Goraya now lives in the Netherlands. He says the long arm of Pakistan is coming for him—and many others.
by Marco Respinti
Blasphemy against Islam is a crime punished with the death penalty in Pakistan. It is also a convenient accusation against those who criticize ultra-fundamentalist Islam or the government of the Islamic Republic, and is often supported by fabricated evidence.
In 2017 the “case of the five bloggers” made international headlines. Salman Haider, an academic, Asim Saeed, Ahmed Waqas Goraya, Ahmed Raza Naseer, and Samar Abbas disappeared simultaneously. The government claimed they had not been arrested, and the military and the Pakistan intelligence service ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) denied they were involved. They later reappeared, claiming they had been taken to secluded locations and tortured. Meanwhile, a campaign on social media insisted they had offended Islam. They countered that posts that had appeared in their name were obvious fabrications. While they had criticized fundamentalist organizations, they said, they had never attacked Islam as a religion.
In December, the Islamabad High Court agreed with them. They were declared innocent of the charges of blasphemy Islamic ultra-fundamentalist militants had filed against them. However, their odyssey was not finished. Ultra-fundamentalist Islamic activists continued to threaten them and to claim their blasphemy should be punished with death.
Ahmad Waqass Goraya, one of the five, escaped to the Netherlands. There, he felt free to tell the real story of what happened to him in 2017, and expose other cases as well. His Twitter page is recommended reading for all those interested in the problem of blasphemy laws and human rights in Pakistan. A thread he started on November 30, 2022, is of special interest.
There, he names Qamar Javed Bajwa, a Pakistani general who became the Chief of Army Staff in November 2016, as responsible for his abduction in 2017. Goraya says he was abducted on 4 January 2017, allegedly by the ISI, and taken to a “torture cell” at Bedian Road in Lahore. After eight days of torture, he was transferred to Islamabad. More than three weeks after his initial abduction, he was freed in the Punjab municipality called Lahore Cantonment.
Ahmad Waqass Goraya says his abductor was Syed Irtiqa Hussain, the then Deputy Director of ISI. Goraya’s family was also threatened, and they all had to flee to the Netherlands.
But the long arm of Pakistan tried to reach them even there. In February 20, Goraya was attacked by two men outside his home in Rotterdam. In July 2021, a Pakistani man was arrested in London. According to the British police, he was planning to murder Goraya in the Netherlands. At trial it was revealed that the hitman, 31-year-old Muhammad Gohir Khan, had been hired and paid £100,000 to kill Goraya by an agent codenamed “MudZ” the prosecutor believed to be an ISI operative. The hitman was later sentenced to life imprisonment in the UK.
In the latest Twitter thread, Goraya names Asif Ghafoor and Colonel Sharif as General Bajwa’s “co-conspirators” in the plot to charge him and other bloggers of blasphemy and have them killed.
Goraya also lists activists and journalists supporting the independence of Balochistan among the victims of similar plots, some of which ended up with murders. Amongst those murdered were Sajid Hussain, Karima Baloch, Mashaal Khan and Sajid Hussain. Hussain, a Baloch native and a journalist, went missing in March 2020 and his body was found in April 2020. Karima Baloch, ex-Chairperson of Baloch Students Organization and Baloch Salvation Front, was found dead in suspicious circumstances in December 2020 in Toronto, Canada, where she had been living in exile for five years.
Kiyya Baloch, a Baloch journalist who currently lives in Norway, has been warned multiple times by Norwegian authorities against the threat to his life and the attempts Pakistani players are likely to kill him.
Mashal Khan was a Pashtun Muslim student at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan (AWKUM) in Mardan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. He was lynched over allegations of blasphemy on April 13, 2017. Goraya claims that Mashaal Khan was murdered as a result of a massive media campaign with false accusations of blasphemy.
Ahmad Noorani is another Pakistani investigative journalist and co-founder of Fact Focus on whom several assassination attempts have been made. In October 2017, Noorani was attacked in Islamabad. In 2021, his wife Ambreen Fatima, also a journalist, was attacked as well. Goraya argues that the campaign against Noorani, who has been involved in several controversies, was orchestrated by Colonel Liaqat Ali Waseem, station chief of the ISI in Islamabad.
Goraya offers a long list of victims of extra-judicial repression in Pakistan. He says that Absar Alam Haider, journalist and former chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Authority, was shot in 2021 following orders of then director-general of the ISI Faiz Hameed (Haider survived the attack).
Asad Ali Toor, a Youtube journalist who ran an expose on General Bajwa, was attacked in 2021. Shafiq Ahmed, lawyer and social media activist, was apparently abducted and tortured twice. Gul Bukhari, a British-Pakistani journalist, was abducted in 2018 and forced to escape to the UK.
Also in 2018, Raza Khan, another journalist, was abducted and tortured by the ISI. He went missing for seven months. Ali Wazir, Pashtun politician and human rights activist, has remained in jail since 2020 even after a court had granted him bail.
Gulalai Ismail, another exiled Pashtun human rights activist, was also abducted and later hunted down, as confirmed by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Her life, even currently is under threat by the ISI. Her parents are being prosecuted as well for what they claim are false accusations of financing terrorism.
Journalist Mudassar Naru has also been abducted while he was on holidays and has not been seen since 2018. His wife has meanwhile passed away and his 4-year-old son is living the life of an orphan, who does not even remember seeing his father. Journalist Arshad Sharif was killed in Kenya on October 23, 2022, the last of a long list of murdered Pakistani journalists and activists. Many had signs of torture and sexual abuse on their bodies.
Pashtun leader Fazal Khan is still alive. His son died in the 2014 terrorist attack by the Pakistani Taliban against the Army Public School in Peshawar, the “Peshawar massacre” that killed 149 people, including 139 schoolchildren. Two motorcyclists tried to kill him in 2020. Even when he moved to Europe, Fazal Khan was repeatedly warned by the police that his life was at risk.
Goraya’s Twitter postings continue. They offer abundant food for thought. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan are not only a way to terrorize religious minorities. Accusations of blasphemy are used to kidnap, torture, and kill all those who criticize the unholy alliance between the ISI and ultra-fundamentalist Islamic radicals. The same machine destroys the lives of independent journalists and non-violent “separatist” activists who are labeled “terrorists” and killed without a trial.