Eight years ago, Pakistani citizen Imran Firasat obtained political asylum in Spain after he had received multiple death threats from Muslims because he’d left the One True Faith to become a Christian. Under Sharia law, apostasy is punishable by death.
Fast-forward to today: Firasat faces extradition to Indonesia (more on that in a minute). What happened? Did he commit a crime, or lie on his asylum application, or break Spanish law in any other way? For Spain, the main trouble with Firasat seems to be that he won’t keep his head down and instead criticizes Islam in no uncertain terms.
Two years ago, Firasat shared his 71-minute documentary The Innocent Prophet: The Life of Mohammed from a Different Point of View on YouTube. It’s virtually unwatchable (slow, disjointed, amateurish in almost every way, with a heavily accented voice-over and a cringe-worthy introduction by certified idiot Terry Jones — yes, that Terry Jones)… but it’s impossible to understand why a bad movie — à la Fitna — should drive its maker into the arms of his would-be freelance executioners.
Yet that’s what’s about to happen:
On December 21, 2012, Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz issued an order to deport Firasat, based on Article 44 of the Law on Asylum and Protection, which allows the state to revoke the refugee status of “persons who constitute a threat to Spanish security.” The deportation order stated that Firasat constituted a “persistent source of problems due to his constant threats against the Koran and Islam in general.”
His lawyers’ subsequent protestations didn’t change a thing. A Spanish appeals court confirmed in 2013 that
“The right to the freedom of expression can be subject to certain formalities, conditions, restrictions or sanctions, which constitute necessary measures, in a democratic society, to preserve national security, public security, and the constitutional order.”
The matter came before Spain’s Supreme Court this year. The justices never gave an inch, and even issued an opinion that might make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up:
“The right to the freedom of expression does not guarantee the right to intolerant manifestations or expressions that infringe against religious freedom, that have the character of blasphemy or that seek to offend religious convictions and do not contribute to the public debate.”
As Soeren Kern points out on the website of the Clarion Project,
This paragraph is eerily similar to an international blasphemy law being promoted by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a bloc of 57 Muslim countries dedicated to implementing a worldwide ban on “negative stereotyping of Islam.”
To be sure, the courts are, presumably, not particularly concerned over what Firasat has done or will do; in a display of yellow-bellied excess, they are instead nervous about what terrorists might do to Spanish interests, now that Firasat may have raised the anger of radical Muslims.
Now, why would Spain deliver Firasat to Indonesia, 3,000 miles from Islamabad? This is where things get murky.
Two judges — Manuel Campos and Isabella Perelló — dissented from the [Supreme Court’s] majority opinion. They signed a statement in which they asked whether the source of the danger to national security is in the actions of Firasat, or in the reactions of Islamic fundamentalists. They wrote: “The pernicious effects against national security do not strictly derive from the conduct of the refugee, but rather from the violent reactions of third persons.”
The Supreme Court also ruled that Firasat and his family should not be delivered “to a country where there is danger to life or freedom.” This would have prevented the Spanish government from deporting Firasat back to Pakistan. In an apparent effort to get around this obstacle, Spanish public prosecutors changed their approach by pushing for Firasat to be extradited to Indonesia, where he is wanted on murder charges.
The alleged crime occurred in June 2010, while Firasat was visiting Indonesia with his wife and children. In July 2010, Indonesian authorities deported Firasat for an alleged immigration violation (his family stayed behind in Indonesia), but a few days after he returned to Spain, Indonesian police said Firasat was a fugitive from justice and filed an international arrest warrant with Interpol. At the time, Spanish authorities refused to extradite Firasat due to his refugee status in Spain.
After the Spanish Supreme Court upheld the legality of the revocation of Firasat’s refugee status, however, the Spanish cabinet met on July 19, 2014 and voted to proceed with his extradition. Firasat was arrested on July 29 and was sent to a penitentiary situated near Madrid, where he remains to this day.
The Spanish courts concede that they don’t know whether the Indonesian charges are remotely truthful,
… but that he should be tried in Indonesia because that country observes “the same level of respect for human rights and formal guarantees of public and private freedoms as those observed in Spain.” In an appeal, Firasat’s lawyers counter that this claim is patently untrue, especially considering that sharia law is broadly — although not exclusively — applied in Indonesia, and that Firasat has little or no chance of getting a fair trial in that country.
Firasat’s lawyers say that they have presented the National Court with irrefutable documentary evidence that the charges against Firasat have been fabricated by Indonesian authorities, but that this evidence has been ignored by a judiciary that is under political pressure from the Spanish government to get rid of Firasat once and for all.
Indonesia’s human-right record is shaky at best, and 18 percent of Indonesians favor the death penalty for apostates. That’s a comparatively low number for a Muslim-majority country, but Indonesia is very populous, and Firasat and his family can surely not feel safe in a country where upwards of 40 million people want him dead even if he is acquitted of the (possibly false) murder charge.
Three weeks ago, Firasat wrote a letter from his Spanish prison. You can read it here. He ends it by saying:
“Please spread the news of my extradition and help me to get some media support. Only this can make Spain shy away from what they are doing to me. Please help me. I don’t want to die.”
A petition to allow Firasat to come to the United States instead is this way.