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Pakistan Tag

 

ACN News – The case of an abducted girl in Pakistan

22.06.2020 in ACN United Kingdom, By John Pontifex, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians, RED WEDNESDAY, Religious freedom

 

PAKISTAN

The case of an abducted girl, 14, taken to High Court by her Christian family

 

By John Pontifex, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web, June 22, 2020

 

A Christian family in Pakistan has gone to the High Court in their fight to win back their 14-year-old daughter. The man, they claim abducted her and then forced the girl to marry him, demanding she abandon her faith.

 

On June 2, Lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu confirmed to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) his submission of a petition to Lahore High Court Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan for the appeal in the case of Maira Shahbaz.

 

The family wants to overturn the ruling of Faisalabad Magistrates’ Court declaring on May 5 the Catholic girl Maira now being 19 and, as such, is validly wedded to the Muslim man—Mohamad Nakash—who is already married and with two young children.

 

Abducted at gun point

Witnesses described how on April 28 Maira was walking close to her home in Madina Town, near Faisalabad, when Mr. Nakash and two armed accomplices drew up in a car, abducted her and fired guns into the air as they made off at speed.

 

Mr. Sandhu told ACN: “I am trying my very best for the case. Maira’s mother [Nighat Shahbaz] is so very sad—in fact she is a picture of sadness. You cannot imagine the shock of losing your daughter and losing all contact with her.” He said that when Nighat Shahbaz saw her daughter at last month’s magistrates’ court hearing, she collapsed and was rushed to hospital with a heart attack. She is making a slow recovery.

 

A very strong case

Mr. Sandhu added: “The case for Maira being a minor is very strong. There are so many gaps and weaknesses in the opponent’s argument.” He cites a birth certificate and other official documentation from her local church and school to prove that Maira is 14. Mr. Sandhu claims a marriage certificate Mr. Nakash produced in court is a fake. The document purports to show he wed the girl last October.

 

The systematic abuse of young innocent girls

Mr. Nakash argues that, in spite of law, which forbids marriage to minors, marrying Maira is sanctioned by Islamic custom which, he claims, says it is valid, provided the girl has had her first period.

 

Mr. Sandhu said: “In cases like this what we so often see is that, after two or three years, the people send back the girl to the family by which time they have satisfied their lust and have had enough of her.”

 

Motivated by faith

Mr. Sandhu, former Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs, pledged to raise Maira’s case in the Punjab Assembly. A one-time university roommate of fellow Christian Shahbaz Bhatti, assassinated in 2011 while serving as Pakistan’s federal minister for minorities, Mr. Sandhu said: “What motivates me is my faith in Jesus and I am reminded of the Gospel passage where Christ reveals how he has been sent to set the captives free.”

 

 

As a charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, ACN supports the National Commission for Justice and Peace and other organizations in Pakistan which provide legal and paralegal aid for minorities and help for those forced into hiding.

 

 

ACN News – The only hope for Huma Younus: Supreme Court of Pakistan

26.03.2020 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Pakistan

Pakistan

Supreme court – the only hope for Huma Younus

Text by Marta Petrosillo, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Briget Griffin, ACN Canada
Posted to website March 26, 2020

For the umpteenth time, no progress has been made in the case of Huma Younus, the 14-year-old Catholic girl abducted on 10 October last year in Karachi, Pakistan, then raped, forcibly ‘converted‘ to Islam and forced to marry her own abductor.

 

As reported to ACN by the lawyer representing the parents of Huma, Tabassum Yousaf, March 19, there was a new hearing at the High Court of Sindh, the province within which Karachi lies. Once again on this occasion, the girl was not brought to court as requested by the judges.

 

On the other hand, there were some results from the long-awaited medical visit to attest the actual age of Huma. Despite the fact that, right from the outset, the parents have produced both the birth certificate and the baptismal certificate of their daughter – which clearly state the date of her birth as May 22, 2005 – her Muslim abductor, Abdul Jabbar, has continued to insist that the girl is an adult and of legal age for marriage – 18 years of age. After repeated failures, attributed by the police to the impossibility of making contact with the girl in order to conduct the medical examination, the result was announced today finally: according to the examination of her bones, the doctors stated that Huma was 17 years old.

 

A finding that does not correspond to her true age, but which nonetheless confirms that the girl is under age and thereby proves the illegality both of her conversion and of her claimed marriage. Yet despite this, no arrest warrant was issued for Abdul Jabbar, nor was he ordered to return Huma to her parental home. The judges confined themselves to announcing a new hearing on April 16 this year, by which time Huma will have already spent six months in the hands of her tormentor, the victim of daily abuse.

 

The case will go to the supreme court, as did the case of Asia Bibi

 

“This confirms what we have always believed,” her mother, Nagheeno Younus tells ACN. “The judges are taking their time, waiting for her to reach the age of 18, so that they can then close the case. By declaring that my little girl is 17, it will be enough for them to wait a few months and then abandon her to her fate.”

 

Moreover, there are serious doubts as to the integrity of the local police, who were charged with supervising the outcome of the medical examination. On a number of occasions members of the police have acted in the interests of her abductor Abdul Jabbar, who has even forced Huma to level a charge against her own parents in which she allegedly asserts that she is afraid her own family members might kill her.

 

The Italian section of the pontifical charity ACN, is accompanying the family and supports them during the legal process. “Sadly, though, it has gone the way we feared,“ says the director of ACN Italy, Alessandro Monteduro. “The first two levels of the judiciary have not given justice to Huma. But we are not giving up, and, together with her lawyer Yousaf, we are going to take the case to the Supreme Court. This was the court which finally set Asia Bibi free, though her release seems not to bring about any change for the better for the religious minorities in Pakistan.”

 

*  We do not know if the audience was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

 

ACN News – Asia Bibi: An encounter with an icon

28.02.2020 in ACN, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians

Asia Bibi in France

An encounter with an icon

 By Thomas Oswald for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published online February 28, 2020

 

Asia Bibi has requested political asylum while in France. This Pakistani Christian woman, whose fate ACN has followed closely since she was first sentenced in 2010, recently gave an interview to ACN France, Aid to the Church in Need’s national office in France.

Asia Bibi is visibly tired. Interviews and official meetings have taken up the few days she has spent in France. Nonetheless, she manages to smile for the photographers with their constantly clicking cameras and valiantly gives her consent for a the long succession of interview requests. “It is thanks to the media that I am still alive,” she insists.

Victim of an absurd law

In fact, she owes the end of her personal Calvary to one French journalist in particular, Anne-Isabelle Tollet, whom she calls “her sister” and who has helped her with the publication of the book Enfin libre! (Free at last! French edition published by éditions du Rocher – due to be published in Canada in April or May, in French). This autobiography relates how this Pakistani Catholic peasant woman has come to be a world icon of resistance to Islamic fundamentalism.

 

Asia Bibi with French journalist, Anne-Isabelle Tollet

Accused of blasphemy by her Muslim neighbours, Asia Bibi spent nine years in prison on    death row, faced with the constant threat of execution. Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws are frequently invoked simply as a means of settling scores between neighbours, and may result in the direst consequences. Often those accused have been lynched by enraged crowds or else “disappear” or commit “suicide” in prison. The media attention given to the case of Asia Bibi undoubtedly helped save her from such a fate.

 

Finally acquitted on appeal by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on  October 31, 2018,  Ms Bibi was at last able – thanks to international pressure and numerous different twists and turns in her case – to escape the country which held her prisoner for many long years – to find her freedom in Canada on May 8, 2019. Now, a landmark legal precedent has been set, a so-called “Asia Bibi Law” which enables those accused of blasphemy to fight back against their accusers. The anti-blasphemy laws still exist unchanged in Pakistan, but at least now exists a greater risk in using them to unjustly accuse an individual.

 

 

“We have been Christians there for over a thousand years”

“I could never have imagined ever being famous,” Asia Bibi insists in her quiet, gentle voice. She tells of a happy childhood in her native Pakistan: “I used to play together with my Muslim neighbours; there was never any separation,” she recalls nostalgically. Baptized at the age of eight, she never faced any difficulties in living her faith. Speaking of her religious heritage, she recalls the ancient roots of Christianity in Pakistan: “We have been Christians there for over 1,000 years.” However, as she grew up, she became aware of differences separating Christians and Muslims in her country. She heard people speak of attacks against Christians, some victims lynched by enraged crowds. There were also cases of Muslim men in search of a bride who might simply abduct a young Christian woman and forcibly “convert” her in order to marry her.

“There is absolutely no anger in her when she recalls this devastating time of trial in her life, only sadness and weariness.”

 

Christians seen as “unclean”

She also discovered that Muslims regarded Christians as “unclean.” It was on account of this belief in fact that her life abruptly changed on one extremely hot day, June 14, 2009. She was working with some Muslim neighbours when they told her to go and fetch some water. She obeyed, drawing up the water, and then drank a cup of water before taking it to the person who had asked for it. One of the women refused to drink from it, because she maintained that Asia had rendered the water “unclean.”  Asia Bibi defended herself, saying that she did not think that the Prophet Muhammad would agree. To which the woman replied that she had just committed a blasphemy! The consequence was prison, her family forced to flee on account of threats by fundamentalists, and a sentence of death by hanging… It was a judicial saga that only reached its final, but happy, conclusion in 2019. There is absolutely no anger in her when she recalls this devastating time of trial in her life, only sadness and weariness.

 

Not the only one

But Asia also knows that she is by no means the only person to have been placed in this situation, and she wants to use the microphone that is held out to her to speak out on behalf of those who are still suffering from accusations of blasphemy in her home country. She becomes more animated as she speaks, and her previously quiet voice becomes more confident and assured: “Throughout my imprisonment I held the hand of Christ. It is thanks to him that I managed to stay strong. So don’t be afraid!” Seeing this new force and conviction, one can certainly see the strength of this woman who has remained undefeated after ten years of terrible trials. This is the woman who stubbornly refused to leave her family or deny her faith, as she was asked to do after her arrest, in order to escape  conviction.

She has been forced to leave her country and yet she still retains the hope of being able to return again one day. “It is the country of my birth, I love Pakistan with all my heart!”she insists. Meanwhile, Asia Bibi hopes to be able to seek refuge in France. “I’ve been met with a great deal of love here, and I think I will be happy with you,” she says.

 

 

Below, a brief video testimonial with subtitles in French

Project of the Week: Support for the youth apostolate in Pakistan

27.02.2020 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Family Apostolate, Pakistan, Pastoral aid, Youth Apostolate

Project of the Week:  Pakistan

A spiritual breath for a youth apostolate in Faisalabad

Published on line February 27, 2020

Roughly half of the 207 million people who make up the population of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are under the age of  25, and one third of these are actually aged 14 or younger. Young Christians, living in a society that is 97% Muslim, face many more and much greater challenges than their Muslim counterparts. In fact, for many Christians it is almost impossible to advance professionally within society. And, the religious minorities such as the Christians find themselves in, the lowest strata of society, Most having to work as street sweepers, labourers, or domestic employees.

 

A Christian name can be enough to block one’s access to higher studies. Non-Muslims are in effect seen as second-class citizens, not full Pakistani citizens. They are even unfavourably portrayed in official school textbooks, and the many services performed by Christians on behalf of the country are passed over in silence. Islam is promoted in almost every area of the curriculum, most notably in the selection of essay topics. Christian pupils are often insulted and excluded, or else pressured to convert to Islam. For Christian girls it is even worse, since they are doubly discriminated against, because  of their gender. And young Christian girls face a very real danger of being abducted and forcibly married to their abductors – also meaning: being forcibly converted to Islam.

2020: Year of Youth!

 

In response to this situation, the Catholic Church in Pakistan is working very hard to encourage Christian youth to take pride in their faith and give confident and capable answers whenever they are confronted with prejudice and ignorance. Many Catholic children also attend one of the many Church-run Sunday schools, but the older teenagers also need guidance and support in living their faith. So it was that in November 2019 the Catholic Church in Pakistan announced a “Year of Youth” for this 2020 year, which will contain a range of different initiatives.

The Youth Commission of the diocese of Faisalabad is seeking support for its youth apostolate program. Its aim:  to strengthen young Catholic women and men in their faith and help them to stand firm – and find their rightful place in society. ACN is supporting this initiative with a contribution of $10,725.

 

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

Breaking News – Acquittal of 40 Christians falsely accused in lynching case

30.01.2020 in Pakistan, press@acn-intl.org, Religious freedom

 

PAKISTAN

Justice and freedom at last

 

By John Pontifex, ACN International
Adapted by ACN Canada
Published on the web January 30, 2020

 

Christians across Pakistan are rejoicing after a court yesterday (Wednesday, 29th January) acquitted 40 men jailed for alleged involvement in the lynching of two people in a district outside Lahore.

 

The 40 individuals, almost all of them Christians, shouted “Alleluia, Praise God” as the anti-terrorism court in Lahore ordered their release after nearly five years in custody.

More than 40 others, on bail after being accused of lesser offences that took place at about the same time in Youhanabad district, were also acquitted.

 

 

A look back at the arrests of these Christians in 2015

They had all been arrested as police responded to riots in Youhanabad sparked by suicide bomb attacks on two churches one Sunday morning in March 2015, in which at least 15 people were killed and more than 70 were injured.

Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) just hours after the acquittal verdict, Father Emmanuel ‘Mani’ Yousaf described how emotion swept through the court as the accused began to absorb the court’s decision, citing insufficient evidence to prove the men’s guilt.

Reporting that the accused were now back home with their families, Father Yousaf said: “What we have seen today is wonderful news for Pakistan.”

“Throughout Pakistan, people had been praying, every day praying that the court would rule in their favour. It is a big day for us all.  “The accused have been through a big, big trauma and now, thank God, come out the other side.”

Father Yousaf, National Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), went on to thank ACN for providing legal and paralegal aid, which, he said, had been crucial to the successful outcome of the case. As well as funding legal fees, the charity sponsored schooling for the families of the accused and gifts at Easter and Christmas.

“First of all, we are very grateful to ACN. With the charity’s support and prayers, all the accused are now free. Thanks to ACN, they are now able to restart their lives,” expressed Father Yousaf. He also added that two of the accused had died in jail; that there had been reports of physical maltreatment and pressure to convert to Islam were.

ACN to continue providing help

ACN has pledged to continue helping the families of the accused, especially over the coming year. Father Yousaf explained how the families of the accused had struggled to cover basic costs as the men behind bars had been “the major bread winners.”

He said that starting again back home would be difficult for a number of the men who had suffered multiple bereavements of close family members during their incarceration.

ACN Project of the Week – Training of future catechists in Pakistan

11.09.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Catechist, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Pakistan, Pastoral care

Pakistan—Success Story: Help for the formation of 42 catechists

The work of catechists is of immense importance for the life of the Church in Pakistan. The parishes here are often vast and with numerous outlying settlements, and consequently the catechists are an indispensable support for the priests playing a major role in passing on the Catholic faith. In many cases the life of the parishes would virtually come to a halt without them.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Khushpur’s national catechists’ training centre, in the diocese of Faisalabad, which has existed since 1965, has now become the “beating heart” of the Church’s pastoral outreach in Pakistan. In this country where men dominate the social stage, these lay people from all over the country come here to train in order to bring this vital ministry back to their own home dioceses.

 

Those candidates who are already married and have families are provided with accommodation for the duration of their training. At the same time their wives also attend a range of courses, including healthcare, needlework, and a foundational knowledge or basic Scripture. It is the norm in Pakistan for the worlds of men and women to be segregated. Consequently, the catechists’ wives will also have a vital role to play in ministering to the women in their own communities. Meanwhile, any children they have will at the same time attend kindergarten or school for the duration of the course.

Great emphasis is placed on practical activities. So the catechists in training will also visit the local parishioners to talk and pray with them. They will also accompany the fully trained catechists in their work for a week or so as to acquire a feeling for their own future apostolate.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has long supported the training of these catechists. Last year 42 trainees were able to put $12,600 provided by ACN benefactors, toward the cost of their training.

To all our generous benefactors who provided this help, we pass on their grateful thanks!

ACN Feature Story: Pakistani government-run schools – harsh environment for Christians

10.05.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Pakistan

Pakistan

Government-run schools are a harsh environment for Christians

NOMAN is a young Catholic living in Karachi, Pakistan. In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, he talks about the discrimination and mistreatment he experienced at school because of his Christian faith. Here is Noman’s story:

by Tabassum Yousaf,  for ACN International

“I am a first-year student of business. My hobbies include cricket and soccer. I am a Christian.

No one in my family has been kidnapped or victimized by violence, but I have faced discrimination from classmates and teachers because of my religion.

“When I reported a Muslim classmate for cheating, the teacher said: ‘He doesn’t cheat. You did it.’ The classmate called me ‘bhangie’, which means ‘street sweeper’ or ‘gutter cleaner’; he made fun of me and used words that were disrespectful of my faith. But I could not respond in kind. If I had done so, I could’ve been charged with blasphemy, and my family would have suffered. So I stayed silent.

 

“Both my teacher and my principal were well-aware of the situation. My mother was called in to speak with my teacher, but they were not ready to listen to my version of what happened. They even refused to give me a form that the school required for exams—so one year of my studies was wasted.

“But I am thankful to God, who has not abandoned my family. He was there when a friend of my mother offered to pay for my education, which my parents could not afford at the time. The happiest moment of my life was when I completed High School; I was the first person to do so in my family.

“I now study business at a government college. I attend classes for half the year; I spend the other half working as a salesman at the mall, because it is hard for my father to cover all the family’s living expenses. Even in hardship, God has never forsaken me. He has always helped and loved me. God and my family, especially my mother, are the reasons for my happiness.

 

“Despite what I’ve experienced, I believe that I will be successful. And when I worry, I recite Psalm 23; I always carry a rosary with me as well.

“Western countries should support poor Pakistani Christian students with housing and academic opportunities, so that they can at least lead better, more stable lives. Otherwise, I have no hope for Pakistan’s minorities remaining in the country. If I could gather all of the world’s leaders in one room, I would say that I only want free education for our children.”

ACN Project of the Week – Helping the poor build a church in Pakistan

02.05.2019 in CONSTRUCTION, Construction, Pakistan, Pakistan

Project of the Week in Pakistan

Help us to complete a church in Issanagri

Issanagri is a village in Pakistan lying within the parish of the Assumption, which itself is based in the village of Chak 7, in the diocese of Faisalabad. The parish as a whole has a total of 6,000 Catholic faithful, while Issanagri itself has around 300 Catholic families, or approximately 1,500 Catholics.

This village is around a 10 km distance from the centre of the parish making it a long walk to the parish church. Issanagri already has a small chapel of its own, but it is far too small for the number of the faithful who need access it.

Interestingly, the Catholic faithful have taken initiative and have begun building a larger church, making great sacrifices to do so.  They have been collecting money, though poor themselves, and work hard on the building site even though they already have to work very hard to support their families. But despite all their efforts and hard work, they have so far only managed to build part of the church. Holy Mass is still being celebrated in the open air, between the partly built walls, where there is no shelter from the scorching sun or torrential rain, or indeed the biting cold that can still be felt in winter, even in Pakistan.

The parish priest, Father Waseem Walter, has written to ACN for help so that they can finally complete their church. He writes, “It is urgently necessary to build this church.“ We have promised him our help, and his people were overjoyed to learn that we are willing to support them. Now we need YOUR HELP to raise the $16,500 we have promised.

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

To learn a little more about the overall situation for Catholics in Pakistan, where Christians make up a mere 2% of the population, please visit or Religious Freedom Report 2018 on line.

Pakistan – The “Asia Bibi” the world knows nothing about – ACN-News

16.02.2019 in ACN International, ACN Interview, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Asia, Asia Bibi, Blasphemy Law, By Maria Lozano, By Marta Petrosillo, Journey with ACN, Mario Bard, Pakistan

Pakistan: “My husband is innocent!” –

The “Asia Bibi” the world knows nothing about

 

In Pakistan, 224 Christians have been victims of the blasphemy law since the law’s passage in 1986, Cecil Shane Chaudhry, Executive Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of Pakistan, told a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) during a visit to the Asian country.

The Colony Joseph. In March 2013, almost 300 houses and 2 churches were destroyed after the Christian Sawan Masih was accused of blasphemy.

 

By Marta Petrosillo and Maria Lozano

 

Although the legal case against Asia Bibi finally came to a positive resolution on January 29th, 23 Christians were killed for blasphemy accusations between 1990 and 2017 and the Commission has documented a further 25 cases of Christians under trial, according to a study presented to ACN.

 

Specifically, there are two paragraphs of Section 295 of the Pakistani Penal Code (paragraphs B and C) that can be understood as the “anti-blasphemy law”. Section 295B stipulates a life sentence for anyone who desecrates the Quran, while insulting the Prophet Muhammed carries the death sentence under Section 295C.

 

“The anti-blasphemy law is a powerful tool that fundamentalists can wield to the detriment of minorities and is often misused as a means of personal revenge,” Chaudhry said. “And when charges are brought against Christians, the entire community suffers the consequences.”

 

This is exactly what happened in March 2013 in Joseph Colony, a Christian district in Lahore, after the young Christian Sawan Masih was accused of having insulted Muhammad. “On 9 March, after Friday prayers, a mob of 3000 Muslims burnt down the entire district, destroying almost 300 houses and two churches,” Father Emmanuel Yousaf, NCJP President, explained to the delegation from ACN during a visit to the residential area. In the meantime, the district been rebuilt, thanks to funding from the government and returned to the Christians.

 

Cecil Shane Chaudhry, executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of Pakistan.

While the 83 instigators of the arson attack have all been released, Sawan Masih was sentenced to death in 2014 and is still waiting for the appeal proceedings to be held. “The hearings are constantly being postponed,” attorney Tahir Bashir explained. “The last hearing was scheduled for 28 January, but the judge did not appear. A new court date has now been set for 27 February.”

National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) was formed in 1985 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan. It provides services in the field of human rights advocacy. Since 1990 the Commission has defended cases of blasphemy against Muslims, Christians and Hindus, and has campaigned for abolition of the blasphemy laws. The team of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP).

Just as in the case of Asia Bibi, there are a lot of irregularities in Sawan’s case. The charges against him were brought by one of his Muslim friends, Shahid Imran, following an argument between the two men. Only two days later, two witnesses appeared who in reality had not even been present at the time Muhammed was allegedly insulted. “The charges against Sawan are being exploited,” Father Yousaf told ACN. “The true motivation behind this is an attempt to drive Christians out of this city district. It has become very popular because it lies very close to the steel factories.”

 

In the meantime, Sawan’s wife Sobia is raising their three children all by herself. “I don’t know why they have accused my husband,” she said to ACN. “I just know that the man who brought charges against him was a friend of his with whom he had quarrelled. Sawan is innocent!”

 


 

ACN Feature Story: Pakistan, an overview of persecution and the blasphemy laws

04.12.2018 in By Amanda Griffin, Pakistan, Religious Freedom Report, Shahbaz Bhatti

Christians living in ‘7 lanes’ district of Gulshan Iqbal Town, came under fire from Muslim extremists displaced to the neighbourhood from the tribal area bordering Pakistan. The Christian community erected walls blocking the seven lanes for security after a spate of killings and other violence.

Pakistan, an overview of persecution and the blasphemy laws

Pakistan. A country where the Christian minority experiences terrible persecution and discrimination, simply because of their faith.

One tool of discrimination used against Christians or other minorities is the “Blasphemy Law”.  In 1986, the so-called blasphemy law was enacted in Pakistan. In principle, the law protects all religions from offences, but it provides for severe and draconian punishments to offences and blasphemies against Islam: and the 1,300 people along the way accused of transgressing the blasphemy laws since it was instated. A simple suspicion or a statement would be enough to imprison a person, and the burden of proof is placed on the accused, who is left to prove his, or her, innocence. So far, no one who has been found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death has actually been executed. Though one significant case that drew worldwide attention almost saw it through. It involved a woman named Asia Bibi.

 

Asia Bibi, Christian mother of five

Ms. Bibi, a Christian woman from a simple village, living a simple life as a mother of five children—and who in fact has never even left her small surroundings even to go to the capital of Islamabad—when one day a small action on her part would devastate her entire life, giving rise to accusations of blasphemy.  The accusation was followed by a mob attacking her in the streets along with her young daughter–they were beaten and finally Ms. Bibi was arrested.  Having no credibility, as a woman and as a Christian within the Pakistani legal system, she was found guilty of blasphemy and placed on death row where she remained in isolation and awful conditions for the better part of 10 years until very recently.

Eisham Ashiq, 19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi, & Ashiq Masih, husband of Asia Bibi during their October 2018 visit to the UK as guests of Aid to the Church in Need.

On October 31, 2018 – after her appeal to overthrow the death penalty was pushed back many times because judges were unwilling to hear the case, it is assumed for fear of reprisals.  She was finally and joyously for her family and supporters around the world–acquitted of the crime, found not guilty.  But she could not be freed from her imprisonment, not let out to be with her family because riots and unrest demanding she be put to death for her crime, ensued in the country.

Unfortunately, even if she is now out of prison, she has still not been able to be with her family for the threats of violence  persist.  Recent arrests of protest leaders have maintained the ongoing threat to her life.

Like in other moments of Pakistan’s recent history, this mass reaction to uphold the death sentence demonstrates the gravity of the situation local Christians in Pakistan find themselves in. In the past, and during Asia Bibi’s trial, other brave people spoke out for her freedom and minority rights. Many were silenced for doing so, and ultimately some were assassinated. This calls to mind a brave Christian man named Shahbaz Bhatti.

 

Shahbaz Bhatti, Christian and Federal Minister for Minority Affairs

His courageous pursuit towards realizing his dream of religious freedom and equality for all led him in 2008 to being appointed Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs. Within a short time, he managed to introduce a law guaranteeing minorities a five-percent share of public posts, including parliament.  He became personally involved in difficult issues confronting ordinary people, and in particular sensitive to the two percent minority Christian community. He spoke out for the voiceless, and for among others, Asia Bibi. His open criticism about the misuse of the blasphemy law resulted in an ever-growing number of threats and although conscious of the mounting very real danger, he very bravely did not back down from his commitment to help discriminated religious minorities.

On March 2, 2011, his car was sprayed with gunfire outside his Islamabad home. Twenty-seven bullets found their target.

 

A cemetery in Gojra, diocese of Faisalabad – grave of Shahbaz Bhatti -Pakistan 2011 Photo: Magdalena Wolnik

 

Two years before his death, in yet another quote from a book that has become his spiritual testament, Bhatti wrote, “My human body is wounded but these wounds are not physical wounds, they are the wounds of worry, of grief, of the sorrows and pains of the persecuted Christians of Pakistan, of the needy and the oppressed Christians. We are one family with the people who are in need. Thus as a family we should share the sorrows, the griefs and the sufferings of each other.” I am deeply convinced that these words remain equally relevant today, as much to me, as to us all.

Now Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi said of him that he was “a man with a dream, with a vision, that people of different faiths can live here together.”

 

Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab

Another brave man assassinated for opposing the blasphemy law. On January 4, 2011, Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab, was assassinated in Islamabad by his bodyguard, who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

 

Pakistan, May 2017  Women and children during Holy Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore.

The abduction and rape of women as a tool

Another tool used to discriminate and persecute Christians, Christian women in particular, according to the Religious Freedom in the World Report released recently by Aid to the Church in Need International*, the abduction of women in minorities is also on the rise in 2018. Often, authorities tell parents the girl has converted and married of her own free will. Many families don’t report the crime, or withdraw the case, because of threats against other women and girls in the family.

 

Such abductions are part of a wider pattern of sexual violence against religious-minority women: more powerless before courts than Muslim women, they are a soft target as rapists know prosecution is unlikely. If a woman cannot prove sex happened against her will, she can be accused of adultery and face arrest, flogging or even stoning to death. For this reason, many women are frightened to report sexual violence committed against them or their loved ones.

 

Mr. Bhatti’s call for prayers for freedom of religion and equality along with so many other brave souls have finally made a difference for Asia Bibi and her family who have never ceased advocating, fighting and praying for her. Reunited, but still awaiting a firm invitation from a safe country, like Canada.

 

Pakistan, May 2017 – At the St. Joseph’s Colony. Visit of the St. Joseph’s Colony, located in a Christian-dominated neighborhood of Lahore, where an enraged mob torched dozens of houses following allegations of blasphemy against a Christian man in March 2013. It appeared that the man had been falsely accused of blasphemy.

To learn more about the volatile and increasingly dangerous situation of Christians in Pakistan, the Pakistani penal code and the “blasphemy laws” introduced in 1986, please consult the full length Religious Freedom in the World Report 2018 with extensive data on the subject compiled on the international website where you can view by country: Pakistan.

By Amanda Griffin, ACN CANADA
Sources: ACN Religious Freedom Report 2016 and 2018, the Catholic Register and various ACN Press articles
*Other sources: Human Rights Council of Pakistan and the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan