A Spanish court is deliberating the fate of Imran Firasat, an ex-Muslim from Pakistan who faces imminent deportation because the Spanish government has deemed his criticism of Islam to be a threat to national security.
Firasat's lawyers, however, argue that sending him back to Pakistan or any other Muslim country would be the equivalent of a death sentence because Islamic Sharia law prescribes the penalty of death for Muslims who commit apostasy.
Firasat, now 36, obtained political asylum in Spain in 2006 because of death threats against him in both Pakistan and Indonesia for leaving the Islamic faith and marrying a non-Muslim.
But six years later, Spanish authorities initiated deportation procedures against Firasat, after he released a one-hour amateur film entitled, "The Innocent Prophet: The Life of Mohammed from a Different Point of View." The movie, which was posted on YouTube, purports to raise awareness of the dangers that Islam poses to Western Civilization.
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."
Since then, Firasat's legal team has deftly navigated the labyrinthian ways of Spain's political and judicial systems in an effort to prevent his deportation. But Spanish public prosecutors have successfully outmaneuvered Firasat's attorneys by changing their legal tactics, apparently in a bid to ensure that Firasat leaves Spain and never comes back.
In 2013, Firasat appealed the deportation order at the National Court [Audiencia Nacional], arguing that the expression of his views about Islam fall within the constitutional right to free speech.
But the National Court rejected Firasat's appeal. A ruling dated October 3, 2013 stated:
"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."
On May 30, 2014, the Spanish Supreme Court not only confirmed the National Court's ruling, it went one step farther by stating:
"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."
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."
Warning of potential trouble ahead for the exercise of free speech in Spain, two judges—Manuel Campos and Isabella Perelló—dissented from the 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."
In any event, 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.
In its latest ruling issued on October 28, the National Court stressed that it does not know whether the accusations against Firasat are true or false, 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.
In its appeal, Firasat's defense team has also argued that his extradition would violate domestic and international law because he would be subject to torture and probable death due to at least three factors:
1) Indonesia has a substandard human rights record—especially in regards to religious tolerance—as documented by the United Nations and other bodies;
2) Firasat's high-risk profile, based on the death threats he has received from Islamic extremists, leaves him in a particularly vulnerable situation; and
3) Multiple rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, which hold that extraditions of this nature should not proceed.
Beyond the legal technicalities, Firasat's lawyers say that by extraditing him to Indonesia, the Spanish government would be sending him to face almost certain death because of his religious convictions and personal opinions.
Strangely, the judges who ruled that Firasat should be extradited are the same ones who are considering his appeal. The National Court is expected to announce its decision on Firasat's appeal on November 28.
In a November 11 letter from prison, Firasat wrote:
"I received the judgment in which the judges have agreed to extradite me to Indonesia. The Spanish judiciary completely ignored the lies and irregularities from the Indonesian authorities which my lawyer proved during the trial. The judges did not even care about the death threats that I have received from Indonesian Islamic groups and that there has been much news in the Indonesian media about my films and activities on Islam. My conversion from Islam to Christianity also doesn't make them think that I will be the target of radical Muslims in Indonesia.
"For the Spanish judiciary it is good enough that Indonesian authorities present formal guarantees that I won't be given death punishment. If the Indonesian Embassy in Madrid presents that guarantee in 40 days, I will be extradited. And Indonesia will of course give that guarantee as for them it will be only a piece of paper which not necessarily will be respected in the future.
"Even if Indonesians do not punish me for death, how will I be protected from Muslims who consider me a blasphemer and an apostate? Will I be able to get a fair trial when the judges, prosecution, fake witnesses and lawyers, everybody will be a Muslim? And you know what image I hold in Muslim's eyes. My arguments, proofs and the clear risk of torture and death have been completely ignored by the politically influenced Spanish judiciary. They do not care if the accusations are false and religiously motivated, if I will be able to survive the Islamic anger in the nation with the biggest Islamic population on earth and if there will be violation of international human rights conventions in case of my extradition to an Islamic nation...
"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. I want to have a new life with my family. I thank you for all the help and support until now and I trust you will do your best to help me in protecting my life. Thank you so much. God bless you."
In a November 17 interview with Cadena SER, the largest radio network in Spain, Firasat said it was never his intention to provoke the Spanish government or the Interior Ministry, but that he felt it was his duty to "warn of the dangers of not understanding or stopping what is known as Jihad."
Firasat also pointed to the irony of his situation. In 2006, the Socialist government in Spain gave him refugee status because Pakistan sentenced him to death for criticizing Islam. In 2014, the Conservative government in Spain wants to deport him for the same reason: criticizing Islam.