Wednesday, February 12, 2014

First Hand Account of the Plight of Pakistani Christians

The plight of Christians in Pakistan
By Bishop Dr. Ijaz Inayat Masih

With the growth of extremism in Pakistan, the minorities of Pakistan and particularly the Christians have become constant target at the hands of misconceived and uneducated extremist masses, who take it their religious duty to inflict the weaker religious communities of Pakistan.

Over the past years, persons of smaller religious minorities have been targeted by killing them through improvised bombs, setting their localities/villages on fire, target killing, framing in blasphemy cases, intimidation, forced marriages, forced conversions etc. the list can go on expanding. Even the lawyers, persons and NGO's who proceed on behalf of the victims are targeted, manhandled and persecuted. A judge of the Lahore High Court Mr. Justice Iqbal Bhatti who quitted the framed accused in the famous "Salamat Masih's Blasphemy Case" was killed outside the Lahore High Court in 1996. [More on the issue can be assessed if one Goggles "Persecution of Christians/minorities in Pakistan".

Victims of mob justice.

When charges of "Blasphemy" are leveled against anybody, the street mob of neighborhood gets involved and performs its religious duty to punish the accused either by burning the person alive or dragging/hitting the person to death. The Police and the Government have never brought anybody to books, though many of such killing have taken place during Police and Judicial custody. [All these are on record and can be Goggled.]

Lethargic attitude of the Police, Prosecution and the Judiciary.

I was personally taken into custody in February 1997 from Christ Church, Youhanabad, Lahore for baptizing a Muslim. The police however distorted the facts and law to keep me in Judicial custody for almost a Month. During the proceedings quit a number of Muslim clergy with Quran on their heads would come to the court on each hearing to intimidate the Judge, saying that if I was granted a bail, it would tantamount to opposing Quran. This is a typical example of the way the things go in Pakistan.

After the killing of Mr. Justice Iqbal Bhatti, a judge of the Lahore High Court in 1996, the Police at times identifies with the Muslim concept of supporting Islam along with the majority of Judges and the prosecution. They either side with the extremists for the glory of Islam or are fearful due to their pressure, thus failing the "Justice System." This is happening all over Pakistan, the result of which can clearly be seen from those accused who are in jails without getting any relief from the process of law, whereas the extremists get bail within a week. The lawyers who proceed in such cases for the accused are also given threats of dire consequences and some of them have been forced to take asylum abroad. In some cases they have been fired upon.

A new way of framing Christians.

Over the months a new strategy by the extremists has come into light. They target particular persons, seek extortion money and intimidate Christians in the name of Islam. At times they even get "Fatwas/Religious decree" [True or false] which does not matter, because they use the overall psyche of the "Mob", who will not investigate into the allegations made against anybody and will resort to all possible acts of extremism against the accused on the street, even going as far to burn the house of the accused.

In a very recent incident in Karachi a Christian and his family have been put to test by these elements. Keis Imran, a resident of Karachi is working in Dubai and was in Pakistan for Christmas holidays. He was asked to pay two million rupees as life money within a few days notice, which he could not and went back to Dubai, thinking that he is able to flee the extortionists and is in a safe zone. However the blackmailers were more clever. They got a "Fatwa" on a plain paper and sent it viral by distributing it in the locality where Keis lived and through e-mail to his bosses in Dubai and other in Pakistan. The intimidating part is to involve and charge the public on the street against him.

In another incident of Karachi another family living in New Mianwali colony of Mangopir are has been targeted. Arshad Puran and his brothers were targeted when they were fixing their sound system prior to Christmas [their only source of income] at home. While checking the kids of the house were shouting "Hallelujah"innocently.

This area is notorious for being a stronghold of the extremist Islamists. [This can also be Goggled] Within minutes a number of extremists were at their door and wanted the boys out so that they would teach them a lesson. The neighbors saved Arshad and his brothers from the hands of the negotiators at the moment. But the the charged Muslims returned again claiming that the boys be handed over to them. Even in this case fatwa was issued and the family got in trouble in spite of reporting the matter to police for protection.

In both of the above mentioned cases the issues were reported to local police, which miserably failed to provide protection to the victims. The police even fails to identify the intruders because of fear or siding with them.

Tailor made "Shariah" of the Taliban.

Taliban are the ruminants of the Mujhadeen from Afghan-Russian War. A few years after the Western forces left this region, the Taliban took over the control of Afghanistan with the help of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and UAE who continued to support them and even UAE and Pakistan recognized their Government. After Nine Eleven, they and their Government were haunted by US and the world community. They reunited with the support of those countries who had vested interests in the region and turned into a big force well equipped to challenge the NATO forces and the neighboring countries including Pakistan. Some of the Government and Army segments kept providing space to them enabling them to take over practical portions of Pakistan. They spread like a virus and began to attack Army installations within Pakistan along with blowing different targets inside Pakistan including Army, Police and civil instalations, so much so that they even attacked the former President of Pakistan on more than one count, killing many Generals during the conflict which continues to this day. Now they collect money through through ransom by abducting various persons, collecting extortion money on life threats, looting banks and from other means. The latest demand by them is over 50 million from "Attock Refinary which is close to Islamabad saying that otherwise they will blow it off. I understand that they wanted to harass the masses, Government and the public at large, so that nobody challenges them for fear of life.

The Government of Pakistan wants to negotiate with them for peace. In exchange they want imposition of Sharia Law in Pakistan. Nothing against it, but if one goggles the net about their activities, one will find the picture of interpretation of a particular faction of Islam which believes in bombing of girl schools, killings by torture, harassment in all affairs of life and so on. They are within Pakistan called "Tahreek-e-Talaban Pakistan [TTP], a particular interpretation of Islam of the 5th and 6th centuries. All they want is power at their hands. Their philosophy is that if they can take over the resources of a country, they would be able to control the whole of the world. Hence the virus has spread to countries including Africa.

I wish the civilized world had invested in the enhancement of education on this region before leaving after the Afghan-Russian and would now not be spending the amount which they are spending on "War against terrorism and their countries defenses against terrorists.

Even the Supreme Court of Pakistan is wondering as to how the Government of Pakistan will provide protection to the religious minorities of Pakistan. The next hearing of the case is fixed for the Government to answer on the questions raised therein.

Here under is an article for reference and mention of events, written by Mr. Shamim Masih dated 13th March 2013 published in "The Lahore times, along with its link which shows a more detailed description of the "History of events faced by the Christians in Pakistan". These are only the main events along with the state of mind prevailing in Pakistan at the Moment. The situation has deteriorated since the publication of the article.

" OM ISLAMABAD: It is a general perception among Pakistani Muslims that UN, USAID, British High Commission, American Embassy, Christian diplomats and other foreigners are helping Pakistani Christians, but the reality is different. Let me give you the actual situation.

On February 6, 1997, a religiously charged mob attacked village Shantinagar, district Khanewal in which about 800 houses including Churches, hostels were torched. In November 2005, in Sangla Hill, about 100 Christian houses, schools, hostels, and Christian Clinic were burnt. On 1st August 2009, Christians were attacked in Gojra and 8 persons of a family were burnt alive and about 130 houses were turned to ashes. On 30th June, 2000, Christians were attacked in village Bahnamiwala, District Kasur in which about 102 houses were destroyed. On 21st September, 2012, Church, school and pastors residences were turned to ash. And more recent incident happened on March 9, 2013, over 200 homes of the Christians community of Joseph Colony in Lahore were burnt.

Ironically none was punished under the law for such gory episode; these barbaric attacks have sent a grave message to the already marginalized Christians. The sense of insecurity has alarmingly grown beyond proportions. The blasphemy law has been repeatedly used for settling personal scores, religious persecution, professional rivalry and for land grabbling.

This is not the end; large numbers of Christians accused of Blasphemy cases getting their lives rusted in the jails for years and years and there is no future to their children or other family members.

I am freelance journalist, Christian by faith and a social activist working for a democratic, tolerant and progressive social order and for socio economic and political rights of religious minorities especially for the Christians of Pakistan. I have devotedly served in the field of human rights during the last decade and have been raising their issues, persecutions, and rights through my writings, without any support.

I feel very helpless and ashamed when I received phone calls and emails from Christians all around the country for help in employment, protection on threats from fundamentalists, help for their children educations etc but I can’t support them. I remain silent for hours on reading email/news of the blasphemy victims who are behind bars or acquitted from higher courts but living in hiding to save their lives. The news items of rape and enforced conversion of Christian women make me sad and silent. I went to Gojra and had travelled to Mardan, when the church burnt there and went to Karachi, when Ryan accused of blasphemy case and have reported on Badami Bagh incident as well. I write for the people whom I have seen working on ground realities, for example, CLAAS has been working for years for the Christians persecution, WVIP is seen during Ryan case and others as well, I have seen Sardar Mushtaq (chief of LEAD), working for persecution without any funds, Basharat Khokhar was seen during Rimsha case, and I appreciate his efforts in protecting her during the case proceedings and I have seen him struggling him for Christian rights, but there are so many other settling scores. I have seen the struggle of Albert David for unity among Pakistani Christians. I have seen Saleem Khokhar, sitting in provincial parliamentarian; he bears ground to earth personality. I am helpless when hear the reports of Muslim culprits of gang rape of Christian girls walking free from courts. (Even those were set free who killed Shahbaz Bhatti ex-minister).

Role of our churches, local and INGOs: It’s time to think twice that what NGOs under Christian supervision, Churches and political leadership are doing? Where all funds are going which Christian civil society, Churches have been receiving in the name of poor Christians. How many Christian institutions are facilitating Christian’s students? Why western governments are denying visas to acquitted blasphemy victims? It made me to think; is USAID for Muslims in Pakistan? When their slogan is “From the American People” is all American people sending for Muslims? If not, then why Christian youth is not receiving scholarships for education, funds for business, employment in their offices? Why there is no program for Christian youth? Why western human rights champions keep silent on rape and enforced conversion of Christian women? Why a common Christian has no reach to embassies and if someone applies for visa, why is it refused, because, a poor Christian has no property and no strong background? Isn’t it? Why UNO is silent on killing of Christians and attacks on Christians worship places? Million Christians are crying in Pakistan against blasphemy law, extrajudicial killings, wrongful confinements and discrimination but UNO remain silent.

It’s just an example; I worked for “People to People International” PTPI and didn’t receive even a single penny on the other hand a Muslim running a chapter “Punjab chapter” in Gujranwala Pakistan, have got thousands of dollars and have done nothing on ground. He got visas dozens of times and taken many Muslims with him to many countries dozens of times. I applied visa for US in 2010 and was refused not only this but my “Islamabad Chapter” was revoked just because of this reason. In all UN organization and USAID, there are 90% Muslim employs and 99% of them are Pathans.

No one dare to ask to NGOs like ILAP governed under Christian supervision, that how many Christian employs they have? No one bother to pursue when Christian institutions in Rawalpindi pushed out Christian students for not paying their fees. Are these institutions are just for business purposes or is there any sense of security/realization for Christians students? How many Christian’s students are studying in Jesus and Marry Convent in Islamabad/Rawalpindi Pakistan? We don’t have right to ask our Christian politicians, what they have done for Pakistani Christians. As they were selected ones, they didn’t come in through their votes but through paying huge funds (collected on poor Christians name) to Muslims Parties and this practice is still going on……. They are so many Christians looking for gate way through paying funds to Muslim political parties.

Pakistani media normally do not highlight Christian’s issues, why there is no powerful electronic and print media for their rights. We don’t have a platform to print or give stories of oppressed and persecuted Pakistani Christians. I usually write for the oppressed and persecuted Pakistani Christians and I am thankful to Pakistan Christian Post, Salem-news, ANS, Global Christian Voice, John Hauk, and Wilson Chaudhry, taking pain for Pakistani Christians and they are highlighting their stories/issues.

During my writing work, I have been receiving threats from Muslims but being hit by the people sent by imported so called Christian Politician, who delivered nothing but wanted to stop me to write the facts.

It is observed during the said time period that all these institutions have their vested interests, it could be political, geographical, or whatsoever it is, but not for Pakistani Christians.

It is not criticism but appeal to all human right organizations to take notice of incidents of victimization of Christians and support them. Because when you “American” Terry Jones burn Quran, you don’t suffer but we, Pakistani Christians.

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