Pakistan's War on Christians
Persecution Is Making Their Lives Hell On Earth
NCW 67, March-April 2000
The purpose of this article is to sensitise our readers to the persecution that Christians are receiving in Pakistan at this time and to remember them and their persecutors in your prayers. With NCCG now involved in Pakistan it behooves us to take a special interest in that nation.
The article below discusses four separate cases of Christian persecution. Many of the crimes are crimes against children, instances of trumped up charges against their defenders, torture details, coercion of Christian children to turn Islamic and the reinstatement of laws which allow innuendo to place Christians on death row. Conservative Muslims are working to bring Sharia - the law of the Koran and sunna - to the country which would officially supersede the country's constitution and penal code.
Their aim is to push Pakistan's 3,000,000 Christians out of the country. Christians there have the same status as the Untouchables of India. So vile are Believers in Muslim eyes that most Pakistani Christians are toilet cleaners or street sweepers. The following article certainly calls to mind the 5th seal of the Book of Revelation - the persecution of the saints.
In reading such stories, which are not uncommon, I am reminded of the escapist doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture, and the claim that the Lord does not want a blood-stained bride, and that He will whisk them away so spare them travail. May the plight of Christian Pakistanis remind us that there are already millions of blood-stained Christians who have been taken to heaven to be with their Saviour, and that there will be millions yet.
Please also remember Pastor Gill and others like him who are working in such an enviornment who face martyrdom daily in their witness of Christ. And in these times of New Age ecumenicism may we also come to understand just what Islam really is - it's own actions speak far louder than words.
Her Mother was the only one to hear the story. The seven-year-old was returning from a friend's house when someone called out to her. As she turned, four men from her village ran towards her. Nageena ran, too, tripping on her scarf. But the four men were faster, cornering her, catching her, then pushing her through a wooden doorway into a dark room. She cannot describe what happened to her after that. Villagers heard her cry and a crowd gathered outside the cowshed. Ghulam Masih (many Christians in Pakistan have the surname Masih) saw the commotion, ran over and opened the door. Inside he saw the sons of his neighbour standing over his daughter, her legs covered in blood. Ghulam and Shehnaz, his wife, carried their daughter to the police station, filed a criminal complaint and took the bus to Shekhupura hospital in Pakistan's Punjab province. "Hymen torn off, first-degree tear, semen and blood stains taken from clothes," the medical report concluded. The girl's internal injuries were so severe that she will never be able to have children.
It would be another six weeks before Nageena would talk again to her mother, and when she did it was to ask why the four rapists were back in her village. Mushtaq Ahmed, inspector of police, said he could find no evidence and told Nageena's family to forget the matter. But Ghulam continued to demand justice and refused gifts from the men who had raped his daughter.
Nineteen months later, on October 20,1998, Ghulam Masih was back at Sharqpur police station. Only this time he was a prisoner, lying half naked, his face in the dirt, iron chains round his wrists and ankles. Inspector Mushtaq ordered his officer to wield a large leather strip. As the belt cut across Ghulam's back, a Lahore High Court bailiff put an order into the inspector's hands. Ghulam, it stated, had been illegally detained for 14 days, repeatedly beaten and framed for a murder he could not possibly have committed. The only witnesses to his alleged killing of an old woman were his daughter's rapists.
Why had the word of four men accused of the rape of a child been acted upon by the police without investigation? The prisoner was a Christian, Inspector Mushtaq told us, and the men Ghulam had accused of raping his daughter were good Muslims. Turning his back, he led Ghulam to the cells and said: "My first duty is to Islam. The courts will take a similar view, and Ghulam Masih will be hanged. You'll see."
Ghulam's story symbolizes the fragile position of Pakistan's 3 million Christians in a volatile society. Nageena was raped because she was a Christian. In the eyes of her attackers, her religion made her worthless, vulnerable and unlikely to be believed. Her father is facing a death sentence because he dared to challenge a judicial system in which the word of a Muslim is worth more than that of a Christian.
Across the Punjab, where the vast majority of Christians live, many Christians are in jails and police cells, remanded on spurious charges. In Lahore, judges uncritically accept cases lodged against Christians rather than face the wrath of Muslims in the public gallery. In Arifwala, in southern Punjab, the merest suggestion of blasphemy sent a Christian to death row. In Shantinagar, a Christian settlement in the south, it took only a whiff of heresy for a mob to raze the village.
"The zealots are gaining power," says Abid Hassan Minto, the Muslim president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, "and the judiciary and criminal justice system may not be strong enough to resist them."
The day after we visited Ghulam Masih in jail, he appeared before the Lahore High Court. The judge refused to admit the evidence of his torture, illegal detention or the clear malice that had led to his false arrest.
Ghulam was sent for trial for the murder of a 57-year-old Muslim and will be hanged if found guilty. His daughter's rapists remain free.
Pakistan, which literally means "land of the pure," was formed by partition, from India in August 1947 to protect the Muslim minority from the Hindu majority. It was hailed as a tolerant new democracy by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the country's founding father. But little more than 50 years after his death, Pakistan is experiencing a crisis of faiths.
It began in a lecture hall in Lahore in 1986. Asma Jehangir, a Muslim lawyer and campaigner for social reform, described Islam as a religion without icons. Anyone, she said, could find faith as the Prophet Mohammad had done, despite his lack of education.
She was quoting from the Koran, but conservative mullahs claimed she had blasphemed the Prophet by implying that he was illiterate. As Jehangir employed armed security guards to protect herself, a fellow High Court lawyer, Ishmaeel Quereishi, drafted a new blasphemy law. Passed by the Senate in 1992, it stated, "Whoever, by any Imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammad, shall be punished with death."
Dozens were arrested, most of them Christians. Since only "innuendo" was required to accuse and convict, four months after the law was enacted, the first Christian was on death row. In backward communities across Pakistan, the amendment set in motion a witchhunt against Christian and minority groups. On October 14, 1996, trainee architect Ayub Masih, a Catholic who studied in Karachi, came home to find his village of Arifwala gripped by a dispute. A Muslim family had tried to seize land from his parents. Ayub attended a meeting and was beaten by the villagers, who took him to the police station, where he was charged under Quereishi's law and jailed.
Muhammed Akram, a witness, said in a police report, "Ayub Masih suggested that I should read The Satanic Verses, the book by Salman Rushdie that debunked the Holy Prophet." It was enough to put Ayub on trial.
On November 6, 1997, while Ayub was waiting to appear in court, Akram shot him in front of dozens of police officers. Ayub's arm was grazed; no charges were brought against Akram. Instead, Ayub's court hearings were transferred to the prison, where he was put in solitary confinement. Ayub was sentenced to death on April 27, 1998. Akram now owns the disputed land in Ayub's village, and the 30-something Catholic has appealed his sentence. Only Ayub's mother is allowed to visit him, their quiet conversations drowned out by the screams of prisoners being tortured with straps and canes in neighbouring cells. There is no electricity, no fan, no water, no toilet, no light. Ayub has only his Bible.
While no death sentence has yet been carried out on Christians charged with blasphemy, they are dying in custody. Mukhtar Masih was seen being beaten in the courtyard of the Nishtar Colony police station in Lahore shortly after being picked up for questioning on blasphemy charges. When his body was taken to the hospital a few hours later, the police claimed he had died of a self-imposed fast.
Javeed Masih, a Christian from Hyderabad, was said by police to have committed suicide in his cell. But a postmortem revealed he had been tortured with electric shocks and had kerosene and red chillies inserted into his anus. His body was swollen with multiple injuries and he had ligature marks on his neck.
Christians lucky enough to have been freed on appeal were forced to flee the country after mobs, encouraged by extremists, "reinstated" the death sentences. Salamat Masih was only 13 when he, his uncle Rehmat Masih and Manzoor Masih, their friend, were convicted of chalking slogans on the wall of a mosque. They were allowed to appeal their death sentences after the court accepted that all three were illiterate.
Under the blasphemy law anyone directly or indirectly defiling the name of the Prophet shall be punished with death
On their way to attend a hearing in Lahore in April 1994, however, three men on a motorcycle fired on them with semiautomatic weapons. In a few seconds Manzoor was dead, hit by a hail of bullets; Salamat's hand was smashed by a bullet from an AK-47; and Rehmat was critically injured, with eight wounds to his stomach. .
In February 1995, Justice Arif Bhatti overturned the death sentences on the two survivors. But posters printed by an extremist group soon called for the public lynching of Salamat and Rehmat, and they had to be smuggled out of the country.
On October 10, 1997, Justice Bhatti was shot dead by a gunman in his Lahore law office.
"I was driven from my home and my friends all became my enemies, BUT I WILL NEVER GIVE UP MY FAITH".
"How is it to be Christian in Pakistan today?" asks Rashida, Manzoor's widow, who lives under the protection of the Catholic Church. "I was driven from my home and my friends became my enemies after Manzoor died, but I'll never give up my faith - it is all we have left," she says, clutching the hand of her three-year-old son, born a few months after his father was murdered.
"It started with laws to protect the name of the Prophet and has turned into a pogrom," says Shazia Alam, author and Urdu translator. "There is a growing belief that if you push the Christians far enough, we will pack up and go."
Shazia remembers hiding in a cupboard when three intruders broke into her home in Shekhupura and killed her father, a Presbyterian pastor, in January 1998. Sakina, her mother, was forced to watch as the men beat her 58-year-old husband, Noor, with clubs, stabbed him and then tried to shoot him in the head.
Noor Alam was killed for trying to build a church on land sold to him by a Muslim. Only days before the church was due to open, a mob burned down the building in the middle of the night. The pastor lodged a case with the police and promised his parishioners that he would rebuild the chapel. That's when the death threats began."He had been getting phone calls but wouldn't talk to me about it," says Sakina. "He was just trying to help his community." All that remains of Pastor Noor Alam's church is a mound of bricks and charred timber. The derelict site is guarded by police. Even this pile of rubble is too much for the villagers who live nearby. Every day a few more bricks are stolen, and soon there will be nothing left of the chapel in Shekhupura.
After the buildings have gone, only faith remains, and even that can be taken by force.
The police came to the home of Seema and Khushi Masih in January 1998 and demanded the handover of their three daughters, Nadia, Naima and Nabila, aged 15, 13 and 11. The police said the girls had turned to Islam, and it would offend the sensibilities of the Muslim community if the children were allowed to remain with their Christian parents. Instead, the couple were instructed to give their children to their Muslim landlord, who lived above their flat in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad.
"While we were at work," says Seema, "the girls were given presents by the rich family upstairs and told that if they converted, they could get many more presents. We knew nothing about this until the day the police turned up at our door."
Seema and Khushi turned to the courts. But when they filed for custody, the magistrate put the girls into care. In March 1998 the three girls wrote to the court and pleaded to be sent home. But Muslim mobs later turned up at the court hearings threatening the children, and the local mosque issued a fatwa against the girls, warning they would be "chopped into little pieces" if they converted back to Christianity.
A court decision in March 1999, over the parents' objections, awarded custody of the two younger sisters to their elder sister and her new Muslim husband. The girls' family has moved from their home in Rawalpindi and gone into hiding.
In towns and cities, Christians in Pakistan are more likely to be sweeping the streets or cleaning toilets. Like the untouchables of India, they occupy the lowest ranks in society, socially stigmatised for being poor as well as for their faith.
Nineteenth-century missionaries who arrived in the Punjab had little success among the high-caste Hindus, educated Sikhs and Muslims. Instead, they baptised the poorer castes and classes, and took them to live in missions. The process of exclusion was completed in 1985, when military dictator Zia ul-Haq introduced a separate electoral system.
Today Christians can elect only four floating politicians, who have no local power base and very little influence.
Their only local representative is the Church. But it is burdened by the legacy of the European missionaries and is reluctant to change. "We are still a colonial institution, baptising in the villages and then leaving Christians to their own devices," says Bishop Samuel Azariah, moderator of the Church of Pakistan. "If we don't act, I do believe that Christians will be pushed out of this country."
Meanwhile, High Court lawyer Ishmaeel Quereishi is leading the charge to bring Sharia - the law of the Koran and sunna - to the country. If he is successful, the teachings of the Prophet, interpreted by conservative Muslim clerics and lawyers, will officially supersede the country's constitution and penal code.
Sharia may not yet be the nation's law, but Christians are already being tried by its principles. Asyia Parveen was 13 years old when she was raped by a Muslim. There were 12 witnesses who saw Javed Iqbal follow her into the fields on October 21, 1996. This year the case against him was dropped, his family filed for some $462,000 damages, and Asyia has been charged with having sex outside marriage by a judge pressured into using the Islamic Hadood (fornication) laws.
From a clay house marooned in a sugarcane field, where her family now lives in hiding, the teenager says: "Why am I being punished for a crime when I was the victim? I am ruined for ever. I can never go back to my village or marry." She pulls her veil over her face, ashamed to let anyone look into her eyes. If found guilty, Asyia will be flogged 80 times with a bamboo cane.