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Christians and the Struggle for Religious Freedom
A vital booklet about religious freedom to inform, inspire and challenge you. Includes an explanation of what religious freedom means and examples of the challenges Christians face in our Persecuted and Forgotten? 2012 update.Get the book or download your copy
Latest news from Pakistan
- INTERNATIONAL: Christian persecution "downplayed" by UK government report
- PAKISTAN: Could the Government have prevented the violence?
- UNITED KINGDOM/PAKISTAN: Multi-faith rally marks anniversary of Shahbaz Bhatti's assassination
- PAKISTAN: Still no justice for Shahbaz Bhatti
- PAKISTAN: Bishop welcomes 'real justice' for Rimsha
Pakistan - Country profile
The rise of extremism in Pakistan is casting an ever-deepening shadow over the lives of Christians and other minority groups, including moderate Muslims.
Problems centre on the controversial Blasphemy Laws which impose a life sentence on people desecrating the Qur’an (Pakistan Penal Code 295B) and death for those caught defaming the Prophet Mohammed (PPC295C).
All too often violence, devastation and even death ensue when mobs take the laws into their own hands and judge people guilty of blasphemy, carrying out 'summary justice' in a way that totally disregards due legal process.
Young girl accused of burning Qur'anic texts
International concern about the blasphemy laws and their abuse came to a head in Summer 2012 when Rimsha Masih, a young girl from a suburb on the outskirts of the capital, Islamabad, was accused of burning texts containing verses of the Qur’an.
It later emerged that Rimsha was barely 14 years old and that her mental age was lower than her physical age. Some reports suggested she had Down syndrome.
By then witnesses were coming forward stating that the evidence against Rimsha was fabricated. The man who made the accusation against Rimsha, Muhammed Khalid Chishti, was later charged with committing the crime himself.
This incident, resulting in Rimsha’s dramatic release on bail, was the latest in a series of more than 1,000 blasphemy cases since the mid-1980s when the laws were introduced.
Assassinations of high-profile anti-blasphemy law campaigners
The campaign to change the blasphemy laws suffered a double blow in early 2011 with the assassination of two leading politicians who had criticised the laws and spoken out against associated mob violence.
Shock reverberated worldwide after the deaths – within barely two months of each other – of 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 call for changes to the blasphemy laws came amid international outrage after Christian woman Asia Bibi was put on death row in late 2010 after being found guilty of defaming the Prophet Mohammed.
While Asia Bibi languishes in jail, reports continue to come in of violations against religious minorities – churches attacked, Christians and others dying in suspicious circumstances, illegal confiscation of property owned by minority groups and sexual molestation of women.
Many of these incidents take place in the context of blasphemy law allegations often resulting in people, including pro-tolerance Muslims, being hunted down by Islamist mobs and forced into hiding and sometimes asylum abroad.
Pakistan “of particular concern” says religious freedom report
In its 2012 annual report, covering the period April 2011 to February 2012 inclusive, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom gave a damning indictment of the situation in Pakistan.
Listing Pakistan in the worst category, labelled countries “of particular concern”, the report’s overall findings declared: “Pakistan’s repressive blasphemy laws and other religiously discriminatory legislation… have created an atmosphere of violent extremism and vigilantism. Sectarian and religiously motivated violence is chronic.”
The commission is one of a growing number of official bodies putting pressure on the government of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to do more to tackle religious hatred.
As the commission puts it: “…the government has failed to protect members of the majority faith and religious minorities. Pakistani authorities have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal leaders who incite violence.”
Calls for UK government to take firmer stance
In the UK, the government was asked to take a stronger line with the Pakistan authorities in defence of religious freedom.
In October 2011 former Shadow Cabinet minister Ann Widdecombe, speaking as Aid to the Church in Need’s special envoy on religious freedom, said that in many countries homosexuals and even hedgehogs “stand a better chance of representation” than Christians.
Her comments came after the UK Government sparked criticism in spring 2011 by announcing plans to double overseas aid to Pakistan by more than £400 million by 2015.
Miss Widdecombe’s intervention followed strong words from Britain’s top Catholic, Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, who in March 2011 called on the UK to push for religious freedom as part of its discussions with the Pakistan government about overseas aid.
In response to the growing controversy, Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC that “British aid should have more strings attached in terms of do you persecute people for their faith or their Christianity…”
Catechetical materials for poor parishes in Karachi
The St Paul’s Sisters’ bookshop sells Bibles, holy pictures, vestments, rosaries, Christian CDs and other devotional items. But with poverty hitting the faithful hard, fewer people can afford to buy these items. You have helped us provide a grant so that the Sisters can take catechetical materials into the poorest parishes of Karachi.Make Donation
Protecting the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore from attack
Bomb attacks are notoriously rife in Pakistan – in recent times no fewer than 2,542 people died in one year as a result of terrorist attacks, while a further 5,062 were injured. Your support is helping to protect the faithful in Lahore by building higher security walls and installing CCTV so that the cathedral is better protected. Make Donation
A convent for the Good Shepherd Sisters in Quetta
For a number of years, the Good Shepherd Sisters in Quetta, in the highly volatile Balochistan province, have lived in an old, delapidated mud house. But thanks to your generosity the Sisters will now have new accommodation from which to undertake their vital mission to help girls and women, who are neglected in Pakistani society. Make Donation
Catechetical instruction for women in Karachi
Christian women are shown little respect in Pakistan, and sometimes they are even abducted and raped. In Karachi, Sisters are reaching out to help women who are in desperate need, and at the same time helping them to understand their rights under Pakistani law. Your generosity is supporting this important initiative and helping to liberate women and restore their dignity. Make Donation
New houses for flood victims in Rawalpindi
The devastating floods in Pakistan in 2010 and 2011 have left countless families homeless to this day. Thanks to your generosity, in the diocese of Rawalpindi the Church is building many of these families new houses, which will be better equipped to withstand any future flooding. Make Donation
Rebuilding the convent and parish church in Kunri
The Columban Sisters in Kunri were not spared when floods struck Pakistan in 2011, and the waters swept through the entire convent. Your generosity is helping them to restore their convent so that they may continue their vital ministry in the diocese of Hyderabad, including helping those who lost everything in the floods. You are also helping build a new parish church next to the convent – on higher ground to protect it from future floods. Make Donation
Persecution of Christians in Pakistan
July 2010: Pastor Rashid Emmanuel, 32, and his brother Sajid, 24, were shot dead outside court where they were due to be tried for allegedly writing a pamphlet critical of the Prophet Mohammed. (Source: BBC News, 20 July 2010)
November 2010: Christian Asia Bibi was sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed after fellow farm workers asked her to justify her faith. Amid calls for her life to be pardoned, an imam from Peshawar offered a reward for Asia to be killed. Read more
January 2011: Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab Province, was shot dead, apparently by one of his own bodyguards. Mr Taseer’s had criticised the Blasphemy Laws, and called for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman on death row, to be pardoned . Read more
March 2011: Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities and the only Christian serving in the cabinet, was gunned down by four extremists. He had spoken out against Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws. Read more
March 2011: Christian Today reported that three churches near Islamabad and Hyderabad were attacked by armed men, with two killed. The violence came after US Pastor Wayne Sapp burned a copy of the Qur'an.
April 2011: Asia News reported that Islamist group Tahreek-e-Ghazi Bin Shaheed ambushed a Protestant clergyman and his family, opening fire on his car and seriously wounding the minister's 24-year-old son. The Rev Ashraf Paul, had earlier received threats and demands for money but he refused to pay.
April 2011: Asia News reported that Sehar Naz, a 24-year-old Christian woman, was abducted and raped by a man claiming to be a police officer.
May-July 2011: Asia News reported that Farah Hatim, a Christian woman aged 24, from southern Punjab, was abducted by Zeehan Ilyas and his brothers Umran and Gulfam and was forced to convert and marry one of her kidnappers. The incident sparked international outrage but when the Catholic Church's Justice and Peace Commission brought a case against her abductors, the Supreme Court ruled she should stay with her new family.
May 2011: Bookshop owners Gulzar Masih and his son Suleman fled Sialkot they after they were accused of burning a copy of the Qur'an. Fr Naeem Taj suggested that the burnt pages were planted to frame the Christian businessman. "The blasphemy law is being once more as a pretext to settle a personal score," said the priest. (Source: Asia News, 11 May 2011)
June 2011: Islamist extremists called for a ban on the bible, claiming some passages were "blasphemous" and "pornographic". Read more
July 2011: A petition with more than 6,000 signatories was presented at 10 Downing Street, calling for action to reform Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws. Read more
August 2011: Muslim leaders in Gojra, Punjab Province, asked a Christian crowd for forgiveness for the extremist attacks two years previously which left eight people dead, saying the attacks were contrary to the "spirit of Islam". Read more
October 2011: Saqib Masih, a 22-year-old Christian man, was killed and 37 others were injured when a mob of around 60 extremists descended on the village of Mian Chiannu, Punjab., to claim a plot of land "sold" to two Muslims by a workman. It was alleged that the worker had no right to sell the land since it had been allocated to him by the government. (Source: Barnabas Fund, 13 October 2011)
August 2011: Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad labelled the appointment of a government minister for national harmony as a "down-grade" for Christians and other minorities. The appointment was a replacement for Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minorities, who was assassinated in March 2011. Read more
November 2011: Christian prisoners in the Pakistan's jails are suffering severe discrimination, according to a Catholic lawyer. Mr Bhatti said that Christians are marginalised and disadvantaged throughout Pakistani society, but the situation in prisons is "particularly precarious". He said: "Christians are disadvantaged in the distribution of food, clothing and medicines, as well as in their ability to practise their religion. Read more
December 2011: 24-year-old Catholic Khuram Masih was accused of burning pages of the Qu'ran. He was falsely accused by his Hindu girlfriend, with whom he was living out of wedlock, after she was threatened by the Muslim owner of their house. Read more
January 2012: The Punjab government was accused of "brutal injustice" after bulldozing homes, a school and a church at a Church-owned site in a district of Lahore. Read more
March 2012: Research by the Catholic bishops' National Council for Justicw and Peace showed that up to 30 percent of Christian and Hindu women in employment have faced sexual harassment. The report also showed that 43 percent faced religious discrimination in the workplace, schools and other educational establishments and in their local neighbourhoods.
March-April 2012: Christian woman Shamin Bibi, a mother of five aged 42, was beaten and stripped of her clothes by local Islamist thugs. They lambasted the family for dressing smartly and said they should only wear outfits befitting their status as manual workers belonging to a minority religious group. Mrs Bibi filed a case with the police, but a month later no progress had been made.
August-September 2012: Rimsha Masih, a Pakistani Christian girl with learning difficulties from Islamabad, was accused of burning 10 pages of the Noorani Qaida, an Islamic booklet used to learn basic Arabic and the Qur’an. Catholic human rights experts in Pakistan said the case against her was concocted, and a Muslim cleric was later arrested under suspicion for planting the burnt pages in her bag. Rimsha's subsequent release on bail from prison, where she had spent three weeks, was hailed as a "breakthrough" for justice by Catholic leaders. Read more
Last updated: 12/09/2012