Canada-based Pakistani filmmaker faces death threats in home country over blasphemy-related work

By: Laura Steiner/Local Journalism Initiative
Police in Pakistan are investigating threats to a Halton area journalist, who has been vocal against the draconian blasphemy laws in the South Asian country. Mohsin Abbas worked as a producer for an award-winning documentary by BBC Storyville about Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which prescribe death or life imprisonment for people accused of insulting Islam.
The BBC documentary titled ‘The Accused: Damned or Devoted?’ details Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws and the punishment they prescribe for the alleged violators. Many Pakistanis, who have criticised these laws for being too harsh, risk being charged with blasphemy or assassinated. Critics say these laws have been used to persecute and unfairly target minorities.
The documentary explores the long-running case of Asia Bibi, the Christian woman accused of blasphemy, against the backdrop of the 2018 elections in Pakistan, and the rise of the fundamentalist religious outfit Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and its leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi.
In October 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Asia based on insufficient evidence and she was later allowed to leave Pakistan for Canada where she is currently living along with her children and husband. Since March last year, the BBC documentary has been aired around the world in various languages. The documentary highlights a split within the Pakistani society over (mis)use of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Producer Abbas, is feeling the heat

Peter Bhatti of Brampton, Ont., left, with his brother, Shahbaz, during a visit to Parliament Hill. Shahbaz, who was a Christian federal minister in Pakistan, was killed after speaking out against the country’s blasphemy laws. (David Bhatti)

The situation is intense in his hometown, Sialkot, where a 49-year-old Sri Lankan citizen Priyantha Kumara Diyawadana, was lynched by a mob on December 3 over allegations of blasphemy. The  mob consisted of hundreds of charged protesters, including employees of a sports equipment factory where Kumara worked as a manager.
Hundreds of people have so far been detained by the police in Punjab, the largest province of Pakistan, in connection with Kumara’s lynching.  However, an atmosphere of fear still prevails in Sialkot where two brothers were lynched in the most horrific way a few years ago.
Soon after Sri Lankan citizen Kumara was lynched in Sialkot, some men approached Abbas’ family, warned them to stop Abbas from doing documentaries critical of blasphemy laws.  They  told his brother that Abbas would meet a fate like Salmaan Taseer, the late governor of Punjab. Taseer was assassinated by Mumtaz Qadri, the police guard deployed for his security. Qadri shot Taseer 27 times with an automatic gun in Islamabad’s Aabpara Market on January 4, 2011 because he believed that the Punjab governor had committed some sort of blasphemy.
This isn’t the first time Abbas and his family have faced threats due to his work. Few years ago, a failed Mississauga mayoral candidate was charged with threatening Abbas and his family.  Riazuddin Ahmad Choudhry was charged with threatening Abbas in a phone call after the latter published a commentary critical of the candidate on, Pakistan’s largest and oldest English-language newspaper.
Watch the full trailer below: