Pakistani Christian teen released on bail in blasphemy case amid allegations of forced conversion

(Photo: Unsplash/Solen Feyissa)

A Christian teenager arrested last week under Pakistan’s blasphemy law was released on bail yesterday, 14 March 2024, informed sources.

The Attock police arrested 18-year-old Ashbeel Ghauri from his home, after his former classmate filed a complaint against him alleging that he disrespected Islam in Pakistan’s Punjab Province.

“We praise God and are thankful to the judge, who accepted Ashbeel’s bail today and he is released from jail,” said Asher Sarfraz, Executive of Christians' True Spirit (CTS), a faith-based organisation, while speaking to Christian Today yesterday.

Ashbeel was arrested on the complaint of Sheraz Gulistan, who alleged that Ashbeel disrespected Islam on a WhatsApp group during a religious discussion.

The family was shocked at his arrest on March 6 and his father Babar Ghauri had told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News that Ashbeel had not shared with the family that he was being pressured by a Muslim classmate to convert to Islam.

“Ashbeel has categorically denied making any derogatory remarks about Islam,” Babar Ghauri told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “He always asked academic questions about the Islamic faith whenever he was forcibly dragged into such conversation. As Christians living in Pakistan, we are all well aware of the sensitivities involving religious discussions, and our children are taught from day one to avoid getting into such arguments.”

Ashbeel Ghauri. (Photo: Courtesy of Christians' True Spirit/CTS)

Ashbeel was accused in January of saying in a WhatsApp text that he does not believe in the Islamic Allah. A First Information Report was registered at the Attock police station according to Gulistan’s statement under FIR No. 185/24 under Pakistan Penal Code Section 295-A which states – “Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” This law is famously called the Pakistan blasphemy law.

Gulistan further alleged that Ashbeel called him on WhatsApp and called Islam a false religion and its teachings false. “Ashbeel merely stated that he believed in the God of the Bible and said his Christian faith did not allow four marriages contrary to Islamic teachings. The complainant’s allegation that Ashbeel called Islam a false religion during a phone call has not been substantiated with any evidence,” CTS solicitors Nadeem Hassan told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.

If an accused is proved guilty under this section, he/she can face imprisonment, which may extend to 10 years, or a fine or both.

CTS solicitors Nadeem Hassan and Qaisar John filed the bail application of Ashbeel in the court of Judicial Magistrate Syed Naseer Abbas, District Court Attock on March 11.

“They submitted arguments in the court to defend the victim and convinced the judge for the bail immediately,” said Sarfraz to Christian Today.

Thanking all those who prayed for Ashbeel and his family, Sarfraz said, “Thank you for your prayers and concerns about the suffering of Christian's in Pakistan. I encourage you to continue praying for the life and safety of Ashbeel and his family.”