Pakistan on Monday released an Ahmadi bookseller amid increasing pressure from American lawmakers and religious freedom advocates.
83-year-old Abdul Shakoor was detained by Pakistani security forces from his small book store in December 2015. He was then put on trial at the Anti-Terrorism Court in Faisalabad for the offense of selling books and was charged under the country’s infamous blasphemy laws.
On January 2, 2016, Shakoor was given an eight-year sentence, five-year for violating article 11-W of the 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA)and another three years under article 298-C of the Pakistani Penal Code [Blasphemy Law].
His case soon caught the attention of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which rigorously advocated for his release. In August 2018, President Trump appointed Commissioner Johnnie Moore adopted Shakoor under USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project.
Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission also added the Ahmadi bookseller to their Defending Freedom Project and in October 2018 U.S. Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) took to the house floor to call for his release.
Pressure on Pakistan increased earlier this year as Commissioner Johnnie Moore released a statement asking Pakistan to “immediately release Mr. Shakoor“. This was followed by the U.S. human rights report which once again heavily criticized Pakistan for its treatment of Ahmadis.
Pakistan finally caved in on Monday as it reduced his sentence from 8 years to the period of imprisonment already undergone, which was 3 years, 3 months and 16 days.
USCIRF Commissioner Jonnie Moore welcomed Shakoor’s release and said:
“Thank God for this very good news, from Pakistan. Abdul Shakoor is now free. ”
“[His] release comes as welcome news to those of us who have been engaging with Pakistan’s government and civil society on issues related to religious freedom,”
Spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Amjad Mahmood Khan thanked Commissioner Moore for his efforts in getting Abdul Shakoor released. In a thank you tweet, Khan said:
Thank you for courageously calling for the release of Abdul Shukoor, Reverend Moore — your unyielding commitment to religious freedom for all is a testament to the strength and power of your own faith from which you derive your compassion. God bless you.