The brother of a Pakistani Christian man granted bail last week after spending years in prison is pleading with Pope Francis and other international leaders to evacuate and grant his brother asylum in a Western country as concerns about his health and safety persist.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan granted bail for Nadeem Samson, a Catholic who has been imprisoned in Pakistan for four years on blasphemy charges. Samson’s brother, Shakeel Anjum, a United States citizen, reacted to the development in an interview with The Christian Post.
“[On the] one side, we are happy. But [on the] other side, we are very afraid,” he said, speaking on behalf of himself and another brother, who also lives in Pakistan.
Anjum cited the Jan. 3 death sentence of Zafar Bhatti, another Christian imprisoned under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, as a cause for concern.
While the Supreme Court of Pakistan granted Samson bail, the legal proceedings stemming from the blasphemy charges against him will continue at the district court level.
Anjum told CP that “trials are very dangerous” because “he has to … go to the court back and forth to attend the hearings.” He recalled a 2020 incident where a Muslim accused of blasphemy was “murdered right in the court,” fearing that his brother could end up facing the same fate.
“He was murdered right in the court,” Anjum said. “He was on bail and he got shot dead and somebody just killed him in the court.”
More recently, on Dec. 3, a Twitter account managed by Anjum devoted to securing his brother’s release retweeted a video of a Sri Lankan Hindu Factory manager who was “burned alive by #Muslims mob” for accused blasphemy. Anjum said these two incidents have left him and his brothers “really scared” and “really worried.”
In light of the concerns and the fact that “mob attacking is common in Pakistan,” Anjum delivered an appeal to the pope and Josep Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs.
“Both [of my] brothers actually should be evacuated immediately because this is very, very risky,” he said.
Anjum also fears for his brother, Michael, who has attended Samson’s court proceedings and visited him in jail. He believes that Michael’s association with Samson is enough to put his life in danger as well. Anjum called on the Canadian government to grant Samson asylum “to save his life.”
“I have no parents. I have two brothers … in Pakistan,” Anjum added. “They should be protected and they should be evacuated immediately from Pakistan.”
Anjum elaborated on the toll that four years in prison has taken on his brother. “My brother, for [the] last few months, he has [been] very sick,” he said. “We got the orders for his treatment. We got the court order for … his immediate treatment.”
Because the jail superintendent didn’t allow his brother “out of the jail for his treatment,” Anjum said Samson was in “severe pain.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s profile on Samson lists kidney stones as a health concern and indicates that he has faced torture while detained.
“Samson is reportedly living in inhumane conditions at the district jail in Lahore, where he has also been denied adequate medical care for treating kidney stones,” the congressionally-mandated religious freedom body said.
Anjum agreed with Samson’s lawyer that his bail was “historic.” Blasphemy charges in Pakistan can be punishable with life imprisonment and even the death penalty. However, the Pakistani government has never executed anyone for a blasphemy conviction.
Specifically, section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code mandates that “whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy [Islamic] Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”
As CP previously reported, Samson was arrested in November 2017 after the man he was leasing a house from told police that the Pakistani Catholic had posted blasphemous material on his Facebook account.
Anjum previously alleged that the man, Abdul Haq, created a fake Facebook account to smear his brother in an effort to avoid having to pay Samson the $4,000 owed to him as part of the lease agreement.
Anjum previously predicted that the Supreme Court of Pakistan would make a fair decision about Samson’s fate because they have bodyguards and are therefore not intimidated by the mob. By contrast, Anjum asserted, the trial court judges “do not have any security for themselves.”
“So they have only one option,” he maintained. “They have to allow the punishment.”
Anjum lamented that most blasphemy cases in Pakistan follow a familiar pattern, where after several years of litigation, the judges determine that the accusations of blasphemy are false.
“Their lives are ruined in trial,” Anjum said of those falsely accused of blasphemy. In the case of Samson, his accuser “never appeared in the trial court.”
False allegations of blasphemy are a common occurrence in Pakistan. Patrick Sookdeho of the Barnabas Fund, a Christian aid agency, elaborated on the indiscriminate and improper use of blasphemy laws in Pakistan at the first annual International Religious Freedom Summit that took place in Washington, D.C., last summer.
In a panel discussion featuring Asia Bibi, another Pakistani Christian imprisoned on blasphemy charges who since fled the country, Sookdeho informed attendees that Pakistan’s blasphemy law “has been used by those who are unhappy with Christians or [used against] a particular Christian as a weapon” to “settle scores.”
“In Pakistan today, there are at least five Christians on death row for blasphemy,” he proclaimed. “There are 20 Christians in prison on blasphemy charges. … Since 1990, at least 15 Christians have been murdered because of blasphemy allegations, often before trial has begun.”
He stressed that the allegations of blasphemy and hostile treatment endured by Pakistani Christians “does not come from the government, per se, but rather from the institutions of society.”