By Sandra Dunham

“Omer” (a pseudonym) can hardly wait to get to Canada. He is most excited about living where freedom of expression is a right. Omer has been in hiding, first in Pakistan and now in Nepal, since 2017. While in hiding, Omer has spent his free time reading and continuing his activism by protesting blasphemy laws. His activism makes him a target of threats, even though he no longer lives in Pakistan.

Omer’s first goal in moving to Canada is protection. When he dares imagine a life without these threats, he imagines a career in video editing, telemarketing, or administration. He even wonders about the possibility of furthering his education. Omer is also looking forward to new experiences in Canada. (Despite never having set foot into snow or onto ice, he’d really like to try skiing!)

It is difficult for most of us to comprehend living in a country where one faces torture and even death for simply questioning their faith. Yet this was the case for Omer, who was born into a Muslim family in Pakistan. The Center for Inquiry U.S. ( CFI ) has assisted Omer in escaping to Nepal and seeking permanent residence in Canada. Now, Omer is looking for our help to offset his living expenses while he waits in Nepal for word that the paperwork required for Canada’s private refugee sponsorship program has been approved.

Omer grew up reading the Quran in Arabic, offering daily prayers, and fasting through the month of Ramadan. But throughout his childhood he questioned his parents, his friends, even his Islamic teachers: “If Allah created everything, who created Allah?” Finally, when no one could answer his questions with logic, he began studying. This led to Omer becoming an atheist; something that is unacceptable and illegal in Pakistan.

In 2011, after a heated debate about religion with a friend, Omer was abducted and beaten by five men. Omer was sexually assaulted, his finger was cut off, and the abductors used a burning cigarette to write Tauba (“repent”) on his arm. When Omer escaped the men, going to the authorities was not an option. Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan.

Eventually, he found his way back home. After explaining to his parents what happened, they disowned him. Omer was forced to move to Karachi where he found work. In his spare time, he and a friend risked all to question the unquestionable. The two men posted questions and controversial discussions on social media.

Early in 2017, the Pakistani Law Enforcement agencies started a targeted operation to arrest freethinkers. A warrant was registered against Omer, his friend, and their social media sites. Omer’s friend was arrested and tortured for 21 days. Another friend, outspoken atheist Ayaz Nizami , was arrested and placed in solitary confinement and is still awaiting capital punishment. Details of police raids and abductions were in the news constantly.

When Omer received a phone call saying, “ We know where you are ,” and threatening to kill him for blasphemy, he threw away his phone, computer, and passport. He deleted all his social media sites and went into hiding. He hid out for over a year. In 2018, Omer approached several activists and gave an interview to Harris Sultan, another ex-Muslim activist. He also approached CFI, which, with Sultan, assisted Omer in leaving Pakistan.

On September 23, 2019 Omer received the good news that he had been recognized as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. CFI has connected Omer with private sponsors in Canada and the process of seeking asylum has begun.

Omer is close, but now he needs our help. He is unable to work while waiting in Nepal. You can assist Omer by donating to the CFIC Secular Rescue Fund . Omer’s expenses are a mere $600 Canadian per month.

Thank you to everyone who has donated to help Omer. CFIC currently has enough funding to keep Omer safe for the next five months. If you haven’t given, it’s not too late to make your donation .

All donations to the CFIC Secular Rescue Fund will be used to assist with secular rescue. Should we raise more funds than are required to assist Omer, we will use them to help future atheists fleeing persecution.

Donate today to CFIC’s Secular Rescue Program.

This article appears in the February 2020 version of Critical Links.