Radical Muslims in Pakistan recently launched a social media campaign against the growing number of atheists. They openly ask followers to trace and locate atheists in Pakistan to kill them, as Muslim extremists did in Bangladesh. Will they mute freethinkers, who speak out for freedom of speech and religion, and risk their lives in doing so?

By: Syed A Gilani, Atheist & Agnostic Alliance Pakistan spokesperson

A growing number of young Pakistanis are adopting atheism and are openly questioning the existence of a god. But secular ideas are still dangerous, and are taboo in the conflict-ridden nation. Pakistani atheists and freethinkers use social media to exercise their right to free speech and the freedom to believe or not. They cannot use any other medium to convey their thoughts to others, since the country has been in the grip of religious fanatics for a very long time, and any unorthodox discussion on Islam can be labelled as blasphemy, which can be punished by the death penalty in terms of Pakistan’s constitution.
Nevertheless freethinker and atheist groups are on the rise in Pakistani social media, and have an extensive following with thousands of contributors. Most of the Pakistani atheists and freethinkers use pen-names and aliases, and do not reveal their true identities. Otherwise it would be impossible for them to speak freely in the presence of such strict laws, and of fanatics who pose a threat to their lives. Facebook has been the main battleground between free thought and religious fanaticism. Some bloggers and freethinkers operate under their real identities – and have been threatened from time to time.
Now radical Muslims have launched a social media campaign against atheists, calling on followers  to trace, locate and kill them in Pakistan. Islamist groups post social media messages such as: ‘If you see local atheists with their real picture on Facebook, try  to trace them. We need to clean-up Pakistan like Bangladesh. Take screenshots, locate them, and kill them.’
Last week the mainstream media discussed Pakistani atheists and freethinkers for the first time in Pakistan’s history. Although it was not positive coverage, at least they now accept that atheists and freethinkers do exist in Pakistan.

Orya Maqbool Jan, a so-called Islamic scholar, said in a TV programme that atheism is a crime because according to the Pakistani constitution, Allah is declared sovereign and anyone who denies believing in Allah is therefore a traitor. This is the latest and most amusing definition of a Pakistani traitor from anyone so far.

Mr Jan is a rightist supporting Taliban rule, who sympathised with Osama bin Laden, and who never criticises ISIS. Instead he propagates conspiracy theories to the Pakistani masses through his newspaper columns and television programmes. Mr Jan urged the Pakistani intelligence agencies to take action against Pakistani atheists and on his show, he openly criticised the atheists/freethinkers saying that they should abide by the Pakistani constitution, because not believing in Allah is a crime according to it. He also compared the ban on the hijab in Paris with a ban on freethinking in Pakistan.
Many Islamist scholars and groups have initiated a campaign against atheists and freethinking bloggers in Pakistan. They attack atheists and freethinkers, blaming them for blasphemy and for criticising Islam in Pakistan. But  the reality is that Pakistani freethinkers have raised their voices against religious extremism, political corruption and religious fascism, and against the grievous atrocities which are committed in Pakistan in their name. They want to develop Pakistan in a positive way; they fight for freedom of thought, speech and living. They have raised their voices for women’s rights, LGBT rights, good ties with neighbouring countries, population control, the promotion of scientific thought, secularism and liberalism, education and literacy, and much more.