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Pakistan - Country profile

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Increasing international concern about a growing climate of religious intolerance in Pakistan came to a head with the summer 2012 case against Rimsha Masih, a young Christian girl who was at risk of being sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Not only was it a trumped-up charge, but her age and mental disabilities meant the case symbolised a fear that the country was now at risk of dispensing with its basic commitment to freedom and justice. Fourteen-year-old Rimsha, from the capital, Islamabad, was accused of burning texts containing verses of the Qur'an.

Under 295 B&C of the Penal Code, known as the Blasphemy Laws, dishonouring the Prophet is punishable by death and disrespect to the Qur'an can incur life imprisonment. The incident, which concluded with one of Rimsha Masih's accusers being found guilty of planting the desecrated texts, was the latest in a series of more than 1,000 blasphemy cases since the mid-1980s, when the laws were introduced.

Other minorities suffer under these laws and most charges are brought against Muslims from the minority Shia group and Ahmadis (adherents of a minority Islamic religious movement). (Source: United States Commission on  International Religious Freedom, Report 2013)

Politicians assassinated for opposition to blasphemy laws

The campaign to change the blasphemy laws suffered a number of blows in early 2011. Politician Sherry Rehman abandon her attempts to remove the death sentence for insulting the Prophet Mohammad from the law. She had failed to receive support from her own party, faced a 40,000 strong rally opposing the change, and received numerous death threats. (Source: Christian Today, 4/2/11)

And two leading politicians who criticised the laws and spoke out against associated mob violence were murdered: Salman Taseer, Governor of the Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's federal minister for minorities and the only Christian in the cabinet.

Both men's struggle for greater tolerance at all levels in public life centred on 45-year-old Asia Bibi, who in November 2010 became the first woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to death for blasphemy. The Christian mother of five was arrested because of verbal insults she is alleged to have made against the prophet Mohammed.

Abuse of blasphemy laws

While Asia Bibi still remains in jail with the death sentence hanging over her head, reports continue to come in of violations against religious minorities – churches attacked, Christians and others dying in suspicious circumstances, and illegal confiscation of property owned by minority groups.

Many of these incidents take place in the context of blasphemy law allegations, the laws being invoked by people with a personal vendetta against a particular individual or group of people. Accusations against alleged blasphemers are often false or motivated by petty interests, encouraging mobs to meet out rough justice without reference to the law. Since 2001 at least 50 Christians have been killed by mob violence after the blasphemy laws were invoked as a pretext.

When asked, authorities have provided security for celebrations at major churches during periods of unrest. However there have also been criticisms of inaction. Christian schools in several areas of Pakistan were closed on Monday 9 March 2013 in a protest for better protection following a 3,000-strong mob torching more than 100 Christian homes in Lahore's Joseph Colony.

The Catholic Church serves the country through numerous hospitals and schools, which cater for Christian and non-Christians students alike. Bishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore said: "Missionary schools of Lahore will remain closed on Monday on account of the massacre in Joseph colony." Police in Multan deployed officers to protect sensitive Christian places including churches and schools. (Source: AFP, 11/3/13)

Rape of Christian women "common practice"

Women from religious minorities are more likely to experience sexual harassment or be raped because of their lower social status – which is due to both their religion and their gender. According to Fr Jill John the rape of Christian women in Punjab has become "common practice". (Sources: Jennifer Jag Jivan and Peter Jacobs (ed.s), Life on the Margins (Lahore: NCJP, 2012); Asia News, 24/9/11)

It is estimated that at least 300 Christian women – including minors – are kidnapped, often sexually abused, and forced to convert to Islam every year. This number includes 18-year-old Mariah Manisha, a Catholic girl from Khushpur, who was killed in November 2011 by her Muslim kidnapper. Fr Zafal Iqbal told Fides: "[T]he girl resisted. She did not want to convert to Islam, and she did not marry the man, who killed her for this. She is a martyr."

Peter Jacob, of the Catholic Church's National Commission for Justice and Peace, said: "The number of attacks against women in Pakistan is four times higher than the cases that are reported" and many crimes "based on sex pass in silence". (Sources: Asia News, 19/5/12 and 9/3/12; Fides 2/12/11)

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Persecution of Christians in Pakistan

August 2012: Rev Zafar Bhatti, president of the Jesus World Mission, was arrested when a text insulting the Prophet's mother was sent from an unregistered phone to the deputy secretary of the local Jamat Ehl-e-Sunnat. He filed a police complaint, insisting on the use of an article of the Penal Code requiring the death penalty, otherwise his organisation would 'take matters into their own hands'. Rev Bhatti was arrested, physically abused and tortured to extract a confession despite his protestations of innocence.

August 2012: Two sisters from Faisalabad took some old items to a merchant to sell. Claiming that he had no cash there, the 60-year-old merchant told them to come to his house. He invited the eldest girl inside but when she did not return the younger girl entered to find her ten-year-old sister on the floor. She ran for her father who found his daughter lying naked, unconscious and bleeding. Doctors confirmed she had been raped.

October 2012: Groups with Taliban connections routinely attack churches and Ahmadi Muslim places of worship in Karachi. Toting heavy machine guns they shoot Christians, steal from shops, demand money from shopkeepers and kidnap Christian girls and boys for the sex trade. A local tribal council enforces sharia fines on the Christian community and the Jizya tax is collected by force from non-Muslims. A wall, build by local Christians for protection was torn down by police
Source: British Christian Pakistani Association, 1/11/12; BPCA, The Targeting of 'Minority Others' in Pakistan, 2013 Report; Pakistan Christian Post, 29/09/13

December 2012: Nadeem Masih, 22, died in prison in suspicious circumstances following an accusation of burning pages of the Qur'an. Police made no investigation but he was placed in custody to guarantee him "greater safety" against possible reprisals. Christian lawyers claimed he was beaten to death and demanded an autopsy.
Source: Asia News, 3/12/12

January 2013: Barkat Masih, 56, a Hindu convert to Christianity, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2011, had the sentenced overturned on appeal. As a security guard, he prevented workers from entering an office where property deeds were kept and two of them filed a police report that he had insulted the Prophet Mohammed. He was aquitted by a High Court Judge.
Source: Asia News, 30/1/13

April 2013: Muhammed Jameel gathered armed men to punish business rival, 19 year-old Christian, Philip Masih for removing a poster for a Muslim Conference from his own electrical store. Police intervention prevented an anti-Christian attack. Muhammed Jameel then tried to file a complaint under the blasphemy laws, but due to the testimony of some local residents and the intervention of Islamic religious leaders, the charges were dropped. Mr Masih and his family are still in hiding.
Source: Asia News, 17/4/13

May 2013: The Pakistani Bishops' Justice and Peace Commission called upon Pakistan's new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to have false and offensive statements about Christianity and other minority religions removed from school textbooks. 55 chapters from 22 textbooks used in Sindh and Punjab contain defamatory and "visibly discriminatory" statements. 

May 2013: A police officer guarding an Assembly of God Church in Peshawar was shot dead when two fundamentalists attacked the building. Tensions were running high after minority groups had called for the resignation of the province's Chief Minister for saying that Muslims could not be street cleaners or janitors and that "only minorities could do those jobs".
Source: Asia News, 7/5/13

June 2013: Christian lawyer Mushtaq Gill received death threats for providing legal assistance to three Christian women who were stripped naked and paraded through the streets of Sereser village. Among those allegedly responsible was a member of the country's ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party.
Source: Asian Human Rights Commission, 25/6/13

September 2013: Hundreds of Christians demonstrated outside the Lahore Press Club to demand justice for a 16-year-old Christian girl who was allegedly abducted, gang-raped and made to convert to Islam before being forced into marriage in August. Her family were insulted and harassed when they reported the case to police. A judge has since ordered police and suspects to appear in court.
Source: Christan Today, 8/9/13

September 2013: Two suicide bombers attacked All Saints Anglican Church, Peshawar just as Sunday 22nd's Communion service finished. Bishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore Archdiocese announced that 81 people died in the blast and more than 140 people were wounded. Militant group, Tahrik-e-Taliban Jandullah, claimed to have carried out the bombing in retaliation for US drone strikes.
Source: Aid to the Church in Need News, 23/9/13

Last updated: 15/10/2013

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Country statistics

Population175 million
ReligionsMuslim 95%
Christian 1.5%
Hindu 1.5%
Other 2%
Christian Population2.5 million

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