Defender of Dissidents Nicole Scott Free Inquiry

M Aman Ullah fights for the victims of blasphemy persecutions in Pakistan. It has cost him.

Self-portrait by M Aman Ullah.

I was putting out calls to secular and human rights activists in 2017, when I received a curious message on Facebook from a man who introduced himself as M Aman Ullah.

This was not too uncommon. I had been seeking to connect on social media with many secular and human rights activists internationally, and I had received a fair number of these messages during that year.

I had particularly been working with, which is a crowdsourcing platform for human rights activism, connecting Western careerists in law, media, and research to citizens in closed societies who need help spreading the word about issues affecting their areas of the globe.

This man happened to see my article in which I interviewed two video game developers who were encouraging gamers to, quite digitally, beat up Kim Jong Un.1

“I saw your profile and I know you can help me,” he wrote. Okay, kind of suspicious, I thought. But I inquired.

“How can I help?” I asked.

Muhammad Aman Ullah (his full name) expressed his fervent, dire need to get the word out about his wife, who was facing a blasphemy charge in Pakistan. He was helping her to participate in her requested Nikah, a ceremony in which a Muslim couple’s marriage is recognized under Islamic law.

His wife, Walaifa Arafat, then twenty-one, had been in prison for forty-three months due to a blasphemy charge for speaking against Islamic extremism, and she needed help relocating out of the country.

“Walaiha Arafat was the first blasphemy victim that I helped,” said Ullah. “I was successful in getting her out of jail on bail. Then she said she wanted to get married to me because she was alone.”

“So I left the country with her,” continued Ullah. “When you get married to a blasphemy victim you are considered an exile in the country for being against religion.”

To stand up to religious extremists in Pakistan is to face serious consequences, and religious dissidents face severe discrimination.

“I was running an institution called The Short Courses, a vocational training institute,” explained Ullah. “My focus was on people who didn’t have other educational qualifications or privileges that would allow them to get a job.”

“I was a partner at the institute,” continued Ullah. “When I started to help those victimized by blasphemy prohibitions, my partners asked me to end my involvement because they said it was damaging to their institute. I have anger in my heart because of those religious leaders in Pakistan calling me out and doing this to my career.”

Not being able to hold a stable job in Pakistan, Ullah devoted his full attention to working as a human rights activist. He volunteered with an organization called Initiative Peace & Freedom (IPF).

Then, a campaign was raised against him by the Khatme Nabuwwat. Khatme Nabuwwat (which translates to the Movement for the Finality of the Prophethood) is a volunteer forum for religious lawyers that takes on cases against those accused of blasphemy. Essentially every blasphemy case in Pakistan is prosecuted by this organization.

Few activists took on the defense of those fighting blasphemy charges. “This was the only thing that nobody got involved with in Pakistan,” relayed Ullah.

Pakistan has been seeing a major increase of religious extremism since the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) (a.k.a. “The Taliban”) rose to power in Pakistan during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. The number of blasphemy charges has increased dramatically, from twenty-seven in 2012 to 199 documented cases in 2020, all in just the span of eight years.

Asia Bibi was the subject of a prominent blasphemy case that rose to international attention while she was on death row. Ullah played a significant role in freeing her from prison, assisting her escape from Pakistan, and helping her and her family integrate into Canada. During Ullah’s initial involvement, a Pakistani politician named Salman Taseer was assassinated for lending his voice on behalf of Bibi. Shortly after that, Shahbaz Bhatti, another Pakistani politician, spoke out against religious blasphemy and was also assassinated.

“As you can see, I also got this idea that I would be assassinated as well,” said Ullah. “But I thought this initiative by Taseer and Bhatti should not be stopped.”

For a long time, there wasn’t anyone helping the victims of these blasphemy charges due to the increasing fear of retaliation in the form of discrimination, angry mobs, and threats to their lives. But Ullah took it upon himself to fight for what he believed to be these victims’ rights. He was declared an apostate, a bounty was placed on his head, and he faced several other threats to his livelihood and wellbeing.

“Religious extremism is a really big problem in my country,” said Ullah. “That’s why I thought there should be someone who stands against [it] to eradicate the extremism in my country. These religious people are very powerful.”

Despite the risk to his life, he believed that “nobody should stop.”

Living under constant threat wreaked havoc on Ullah and his family. His mother and three of his four sisters were living with him in Pakistan when they had to go into hiding.

The threats continued. At one point, one of his sisters was assaulted and her wrist was broken. Ullah’s own house was attacked, but he was unharmed, having already gone into hiding.

With the threat to his and his family’s lives looming before him, Ullah eventually realized he had to flee the country.

He left for Dubai as the news of his cases with Arafat, Asia Bibi, and other blasphemy victims spread around the globe. An Australian couple named Mark Parnell and Penny Wright got in contact with him and advocated for his application to Australia. In 2018, he was granted a humanitarian visa to live in Australia along with his mother and three sisters.

Ullah’s inspiration for helping those in need stems from his childhood; he states he was raised by a single mother of five. Ullah is the oldest at thirty-seven, and his oldest sister, thirty-five, was married and moved to London before these events unfolded.

“It is very hard [for my sisters] to get married to a Pakistani Muslim because of their knowledge of my work. So sometimes my sisters blame me for their future outlook.”

Some of his sisters resent him for doing the work that he does. One sister even moved to another city to begin a new life once the family reached Australia so she would not be associated with his name and story.

“When someone wants to get married to a girl, they check [her] background and family history,” explained Ullah. “My sister had a marriage proposal, but he said he didn’t want to marry her because he thought we were bad Muslims. She developed depression. Now she wants to study, live, and work with her own identity.”

Although Ullah was discouraged by his siblings from remaining active in his work, he always knew he had to fight for the freedoms of others.

Ullah was eight years old when his parents separated after his mother suffered repeated physical abuse at the hands of his father. That was when Ullah saw what it was like for people without privileges to live in shame and hiding.

“The Pakistani government doesn’t support single mothers,” said Ullah. “So my mother was bullied, among other things. I saw my mother raise five children on her own. These things left many feelings in my heart.”

Ullah’s motivation to help others facing blasphemy charges continues. His most recent efforts include helping Salma Tanveer, a woman with two children who was sentenced to death in September 2021 on a blasphemy charge. She is being forced to leave behind a husband that is living with two untreated broken legs and a daughter whose attempted suicide left her body with burns and in dire need of medical attention. The family isn’t getting the medical treatment they need because  finances are being poured into the legal fight to free Tanveer. Her husband hasn’t received care for his legs for at least two years, and as a result he can barely walk.

The effort required to keep up the fight on these issues is continuously increasing, as the number of blasphemy charges keeps rising. Ullah knows he will be facing many challenges ahead, and he is asking for help.

“I will definitely be hated by the Muslims of Pakistan and by the people of Pakistan in general,” said Ullah. “I will continue my work. I know what I’m doing is the right thing. I know it is for the betterment of my society. I do not regret what I did, even when I face problems.”

Ullah wants to build a business or nonprofit so he can commit full-time to working on humanitarian issues. He identifies as a cultural Muslim but is against extremism. He would like a career in humanitarian work so he can support himself and his family.

As for his time in Australia, it doesn’t seem like things are quite translating. “I kept going to churches here but they kept telling me, ‘We will pray for you,’” he laughed.


1., Contributor, “World Knockout and Movements Brings North Korea to World Gamers,” HuffPost, June 8, 2016. Available online at

M Aman Ullah fights for the victims of blasphemy persecutions in Pakistan. It has cost him. I was putting out calls to secular and human rights activists in 2017, when I received a curious message on Facebook from a man who introduced himself as M Aman Ullah. This was not too uncommon. I had been …