THE ACCUSED: Damned or Devoted
Directed by Mohammed Naqvi
2020, 77 minutes
"The Accused: Damned or Devoted" is a modern-day inquisition. Against the backdrop of Pakistan’s elections, this film follows the rise of powerful cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, on a mission is to preserve the country’s blasphemy laws, which prescribe a mandatory death sentence for
disrespecting The Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) and life imprisonment for desecrating the Holy Quran. With millions sympathetic to his goal, Rizvi holds the country under his spell and silences anyone attempting to change the law by condemning them to death. As he pushes for more power, Rizvi decides to run for office in the upcoming general elections, and those accused of blasphemy or those who oppose the blasphemy laws- whether targeted minorities, liberals, and opposing Muslim voices - become the pawns of his ambition.
These include Patras and Asia Bibi. Two Christians who have been accused of committing blasphemy - Patras for allegedly sharing blasphemous content on social media, and Asia for allegedly uttering blasphemous words during an argument with a co-worker. Awaiting their trials, chances look grim for these two in the run up to elections, where even moderate front runner Imran Khan appears to support the Blasphemy Law. Despite Cleric Rizvi’s political strategy of crushing dissenters, brave opposing voices emerge. Narrowly escaping a lynch mob, Gulalai Ismail, who was falsely accused of blasphemy, decides to countersue her accuser and the judicial system in Pakistan becomes a battleground. With access to all sides revealing the interplay of religion and politics, “The Accused: Damned or Devoted” is a crucial election story of fledgling democracy that is not only a key ally in the global war against terror, it is also a nuclear power.
Subjects & Collections
2021 Criminal & Law Cultural Studies Economics Education Islamic Studies Middle Eastern Studies Religion & Spirituality World History 2022
Festivals & Awards
Nominee - Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking - 75th Primetime Emmy Awards
In Competition - CPH:DOX F:ACT AWARD
Official Selection - Bergen International Film Festival
Official Selection - Doc Edge Film Festival
Critic’s Choice "Powerful film... this stark dive into Pakistan’s blasphemy laws has many more moments of horror.”
- The Times
“This is one of the best films to have probed the difficult relations between religion, politics and human rights.”
- Film Inquiry
Critics Top Pick "Sobering.”
Further ReadingDirector's Statement
This project is the most dangerous film I have ever worked on. Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws prescribe a mandatory death sentence for disrespecting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Even Pakistanis who have criticized the law for being too harsh risk being charged with blasphemy or assassinated themselves. I refused to possibly explore this topic when I was first approached.
Then in November 2017, the Pakistani Parliament passed legislation that was considered a first step towards relaxing the Blasphemy Law. Suddenly, Cleric Rizvi, the leader of a religious political party (and a primary subject in our film) descended on Islamabad and essentially put the whole city under siege.
As I was in Islamabad at that time, in front of my eyes, I saw parliament immediately back track and rescind the legislation. Rizvi had won. My country had once again fallen prey to the political ambitions of a despot, one who was using Islam as veneer. Ultimately, I wanted to expose Rizvi - he did not speak for me or other Muslims, he only spoke for his own political ambitions. In doing so, he was also responsible for the lynching of several minorities and Muslims who had been falsely accused of blasphemy. He had to be stopped. This was what motivated me to make this film.