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Theme: Among the “hunting dogs” in Pakistan

May 12, 2007

From “Pakistan’s Christians extremely fearful of Muslims,” India Abroad News Service, Feb. 1997:

Over 100 Pakistani Christians gathered in front of the country’s Consulate to denounce the attack on three Christian enclaves in the Pakistani district of Multan, earlier this month.

In a letter addressed to Pakistani President Farooq Legari, Mr. Shadab E Khokhar, President of the Canadian chapter of International Christian Awaz, noted that his group, “With deep sadness and anger must protest the savage attacks on the Christian community of Khanewal, Bhuttabad and Santinagar on February 5 and 6, 1997.”

Published reports said that two people were killed, 15 injured and thousands left homeless as a result of the violence.

Christians constitute about 3 per cent of Pakistan’s 130-million population.

“Coming just two days after Pakistan’s national elections of February 3, 1997, the attacks may be a portent of more dangerous things to come,” said Mr Khokhar.

“Pakistan’s Christians are extremely fearful,” he said, alluding to the fact that the previous government of Pakistan Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League oversaw implementation of an Islamic Constitution, setting the stage for the country’s infamous blasphemy law which grants death penalty to anyone found guilty of blasphemy towards Islam or its Prophet Mohammed.

Mr Khokhar said that the Pakistani Christian population has long maintained that the law is used by Muslim fanatics to harass them and have asked for its repeal.

In the letter to President Legari, Mr Khokhar wrote,”It is clear that the law of Pakistan does not protect Christians but rather targets them.”

Mr Khokhar said the Christian population in the three areas fled for their lives when the stick-wielding, stone-throwing mob beset their enclaves, burnt and looted churches, a mission school and its hostel, and number of shops and houses.

He said that about 80 members of their organisation met on Feb. 9 to discuss the condition of Pakistani Christians.

They concluded that when the violence started, local Pakistani police “were ineffective and the army was eventually called in to maintain law and order,” Mr Khokhar said.

About 30 members of International Christian Awaz also camped in front of Queen’s Park (seat of the Ontario provincial govt) in Toronto to bring to the notice of the provincial parliamentarians the condition of Pakistani Christians.

“Christians are always treated as second-class people in Pakistan,” Mr Khokhar claimed.

Six members of the group, including 10-year-old Christopher Khokhar, were on hunger strike for a day.

When asked about the cause of the violence, Mr Khokhar said the trouble erupted as a result of rumours that Christians had torn pages from the Islamic holy book, Koran.

Speakers at the meeting in Toronto urged the Canadian government to investigate and protest the latest incident of religious persecution in Pakistan.

The Canadian chapter of International Christian Awaz has demanded that the blasphemy law be repealed and the Pakistani government repair all the churches destroyed during the recent
violence.

From “Gunmen ‘execute’ Pakistan Christians,” BBC News, Sept. 2002:

Unidentified gunmen have shot dead seven people at a Christian charity in Karachi’s central business district, Pakistani police say.

They entered the third-floor offices of the Institute for Peace and Justice (IPJ) and shot their victims in the head.

One other person is in a critical condition.

All those killed were Pakistani Christians.

Both gunmen escaped after the attack in the southern port city which has seen mounting attacks this year on Western and Christian targets.

Police have cordoned off the 12-storey building housing the offices.

Karachi police chief Tariq Jamil said the victims had their hands tied and their mouths had been covered with tape.

From “Pakistan’s Christians fear backlash,” Christian Science Monitor, April 2003:

Since the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, at least 50 foreigners and nationals in Pakistan have been killed and dozens injured in a series of terrorist attacks. Most of them had one thing in common: They were Christians.

Now, as the US fights another enemy in the region, Pakistan’s large Christian minority is once again living in fear of the country’s suspected Al Qaeda-backed extremists.

“The Christians of Pakistan are the prime target of militants who believe that by killing Christians and attacking churches they may avenge America’s attacks. We have suffered during the recent Afghan war and are now tense and scared thinking of [an] Iraq war,” says Shahbaz Bhatti, president of Pakistan’s Christian Liberation Front, a leading Christian organization here.

In the months leading up to the US invasion of Iraq, extremist groups whipped up anti-American sentiments, holding protest demonstrations across the country. Protests have continued since the war started with thousands of Muslims gathering in Multan Friday following an even larger protest in Peshawar earlier last week. Effigies of President Bush and US flags have been burned as extremists decry the “War against Muslims,” and clerics have urged Muslims to wage a holy war against “infidels.”

From “Under the Gun: The Hard Lives of Pakistani Christians,” Benedict Rogers, Crisis Magazine, April 2005:

Five minutes after we left the hotel, a bomb ripped through the lobby, injuring many and destroying the ground floor. We would have been there.

Our narrow escape, while giving us a taste of the dangers that exist in Pakistan, was no more than a passing experience compared with the daily threats of discrimination, intimidation, harassment, hate propaganda, torture, and terror that Christians and other religious minorities face.

(…)

One of the worst examples of Pakistani injustice is the “Blasphemy Law,” set out in Section 295 of the Penal Code. “No other law in the name of religion has had a more devastating and massive effect in recent years than the blasphemy law,” the Catholic Church’s National Commission for Justice and Peace argues. Introduced by the former military dictator General Zia ul-Haq in 1985, the law prohibits blaspheming against the prophet Mohammad, defiling the Koran, and insulting Islam. The penalty for blasphemy against the Prophet is death.

“This law is a weapon in the hands of extremists,” said one minority leader. From the creation of Pakistan in 1947 until the introduction of the blasphemy law, Muslims and Christians lived largely in harmony, with little religious violence. But since 1985, the number of deaths, false convictions, wrongful imprisonments, torture cases, and instances of religious strife has risen significantly. Between 1986 and 2003, at least 280 cases of blasphemy were registered.

The key problem is that the law simply requires the testimony of one Muslim man against anyone else for a case to be registered. The end result is that the blasphemy laws often have little to do with blasphemy; accusations can be entirely falsified and used to settle scores. The vast majority of cases are actually against Muslims, in personal disputes unrelated to religion. But at least 78 Christians have been charged with blasphemy since the law was introduced, and once charged—even if acquitted—they’re marked for life. Although the death penalty has never been carried out by the state, Islamic extremists try to take the law into their own hands. In prison, a blasphemy suspect is in constant danger and, if released, faces a lifetime in hiding.

(…)

Khan expressed frustration that Western governments, particularly the United Kingdom, are engaged in regular dialogue with the MMA but do little to support pro-democracy groups like the Awami National Party. A Western diplomat in Islamabad confirmed this—and his comments shocked me. “People get very worried about the MMA, but they shouldn’t. They are just men with big beards who make a lot of noise,” he said. When I pointed out that the MMA had already introduced sharia law, his response was extraordinary: “What is the problem with sharia law?”

Similarly, Western governments don’t appear to understand the dangers of the expanding madrassas—or Islamic schools—in Pakistan. There are an estimated 29,000 of them, although fewer than 9,000 are registered with the Pakistani government. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, madrassas are “the fastest growing segment within the education sector.” Many teach a radical, militant brand of Islam and are recruiting and training centers for terrorists. Students from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Africa continue to study in Pakistani madrassas—more than 10,000 in Sindh province alone.

While the Pakistani government puts on an appearance of reforming the madrassas by encouraging them to register and become part of the mainstream education system, this has actually resulted in the funding and legitimizing of radical Islam

(…)

Human-rights activists and lawyers who defend blasphemy cases do so at great risk, facing threats from religious extremists and the authorities. Aslam Masih’s lawyer has been attacked and threatened. After one blasphemy case, Islamic militants stopped his car, beat him, held a gun to his head, and told him: “We will not leave you. You are an enemy of Islam.”

“We Christians are living among the hunting dogs,” Bhatti told me. “They want to see us dead.”

From “Christians targetted in Pakistan over Easter period; twelve year-old Pakistani Christian girl gang-raped on Easter day,” Christian Solidarity International, April 2007:

A 12-year-old Christian girl was kidnapped and gang-raped by four Muslim men in Lahore on Easter Day. Less than a week later, a Christian man in Jamshoro district was threatened by a mob following allegations of blasphemy.

According to a report from the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), Shaheena Masih was kidnapped at around 10am on 8 April as she went to a shop to buy her father some juice. The rest of her family were at church, but Shaheena and her elderly father had stayed at home because he was unwell.

On her way to the shops, four men grabbed Shaheena and placed a handkerchief over her mouth. She fell unconscious, but when she woke up she found herself in a factory. The

four men raped her, and then locked her in a room. One of the rapists allegedly told his accomplices: “Don’t hesitate to rape a Christian girl. Even if she dies, no-one will get us. Her poor parents cannot pursue us.”

According to APMA, while in the locked room Shaheena found a mobile phone lying on the floor, and called her brother. However, while she was talking to him, her kidnappers entered the room, seized the telephone and beat her very badly. She was then taken to a brothel.

Shaheena was rescued by Nishtar colony police officers after her family had traced the mobile phone call and located the address of the owner. He confessed to the kidnap, and assisted the police in returning Shaheena to her family.

APMA claims she returned to her home two days after she was kidnapped, “bleeding profusely and in a pathetic condition”. Shaheena was taken to Lahore General Hospital for a medical examination, but the police refused to give her family the medical report.

The four men were arrested and the police registered a case against them. However, three were subsequently released and police are reportedly under pressure from the kidnappers not to pursue the case.

From “Christians threatened: convert to Islam or die,” Asia News, May 2007:

Convert to Islam within 10 days and shut down all the country’s churches: the ultimatum was delivered in a threatening letter that Muslim fundamentalists sent to Christian communities in Charsadda and Mardan, in northern Pakistan. If their orders are not obeyed, “all Christians will be executed”.

The letter was sent on 7 May to local churches, who immediately took it to the police. Feroz Shah, district inspector of Charsadda, said he had investigated the matter. For him, it’s a “joke”, and so “there is no need to make any arrests” Christians, he added, “are safe and well protected” in the area.

Mgr Anthony Lobo, bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, does not share the inspector’s view. He told AsiaNews: “This letter is not a joke, but a threat that needs to be taken seriously. It has left the Christian community of Pakistan very frightened. We have already appealed to higher powers in the country to ask for help and we will continue to do so.”

See also:
Father Joe: Catholic Man Tortured in Pakistan

Links to this post:
What happens to our brothers in Pakistan

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