Being an atheist in Pakistan can be life-threatening. But behind closed doors, non-believers are getting together to support one another. How do they survive in a nation where blasphemy carries a death sentence?
Omar, named after one of Islam’s most revered caliphs, has rejected the faith of his forefathers. He is one of the founding members of an online group – a meeting point for the atheists of Pakistan.
But even there he must stay on his guard. Members use fake identities.
“You have to be careful who you are befriending,” he says.
One man contacted Omar to say he had visited his Facebook profile and printed out pictures of him with his family. “You cannot be safe,” Omar says.
In Pakistan, posting about atheism online can have serious consequences.
Under a recently passed cyber-crime law, it is now illegal to post content online – even in a private forum – that could be deemed blasphemous.
The government took out adverts in national newspapers asking members of the public to report any content they believe could constitute blasphemy.
And the law is being enforced. In June this year, in the first case of its kind, Taimoor Raza was sentenced to death for posting blasphemous content on Facebook.
A Pakistani atheist’s diary
“Zahir” is an online activist who uses social media to express atheist ideas and comment on Pakistani politics
“Dear diary, I’ve been through four Twitter accounts in one year now. The last one got blocked last night. It doesn’t matter how vague my details are or if the pictures I use are generic. It’s as if someone is watching me. Every time this happens I feel that I should just give up. They want to silence me.”
As a result, atheists feel their ability to publicly question the existence of God is threatened.