Thursday, October 22, 2020

Christians are fleeing unprecedented violence in Pakistan

Mar 26. 2019
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Re: “Thailand’s Pakistani immigrants need not fear persecution at home, Have Your Say, March 20

The writer sugar-coats the reality of life for persecuted minorities in Pakistan. 

I am a convert to Christianity who was forced to leave Pakistan by my paternal Muslim family. We had to leave our house, affluent life and education. No one wants to leave their comfortable life and end up in poverty with no formal education or support, stigmatised as a refugee while waiting for years to be sent to a new country.

A Christian friend of mine, now in America, taught for 18 years in a school in Kasur, Punjab province, Pakistan. The principal pressured her to convert her to Islam with the offer of a better salary. He finally tried to force her to accept the Koran but she refused. The next day she arrived at school to find someone had left torn-up pages of the Koran inside her locker. Fellow teachers accused her of the act. On the same day, the principal along with four of his friends kidnapped and then gang-raped her. Local police refused to help since the principal is a powerful local figure. The family managed to flee the country and were granted asylum in the US. 

Other cases of serious violence against Christians in Pakistan have made global headlines. 

In 2014, Christians Shahzad Masih and his wife Shamma Bibi were falsely accused of blasphemy then beaten and burnt to death by an angry mob at a brick kiln in Punjab province. Last year four Catholics were murdered by gunmen in Quetta the day after Easter, the third targeted killing of Christians in Quetta in the space of a few months.

Last October, Pakistan’s Supreme Court quashed the conviction and ordered the release of 47-year-old Asia Bibi, a Christian woman from a village in Punjab who had been on death row for eight years after being falsely accused of blasphemy. Groups supporting the blasphemy law took to the streets, damaging property and threatening the judiciary, government and military with violent reprisals unless Bibi was convicted and executed. 

Why are Pakistani Christians frequently being targeted with blasphemy accusations? Living in a Muslim-majority country, aren’t they aware of the consequences of blasphemy against Islam? Of course they are. The vast majority of blasphemy accusations are false. The root of the problem is a government that refuses to amend the blasphemy law and instead encourages discriminatory prosecution and other abuses against vulnerable groups. 

The author of the letter cited might protest that the victims do receive justice in Pakistan. They don’t – except for cases such as Bibi’s, where global headlines and international pressure force the Pakistani government to act. 

Christians are never treated as equal citizens in Pakistan and are suffering because of their faith. They are falsely charged under blasphemy laws which carry a mandatory death penalty. Christian churches and villages are routinely set on fire and innocent people are killed under spurious blasphemy charges. Christian girls and women are kidnapped, raped and even forcibly converted to Islam and the government and Pakistani courts have failed to provide justice for them.

Extremism and hate against Christians have reached an unprecedented level in Pakistan but the government has failed to take this matter seriously. Because of increasing discrimination and persecution in Pakistan, Christians are fleeing to save their lives.

A Christian Pakistani refugee in Thailand

Bangkok

 

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