Human Rights Without Frontiers – Indian Christians faced almost as many attacks in first half of 2017 as all of 2016

World Watch Monitor, 8 August 2017. In the first six months of 2017, Indian Christians were harassed, threatened or attacked for their faith in 410 reported incidents (248 in the first quarter), almost as many as the total for the whole of 2016 (441).

This is according to figures compiled by partners of Open Doors, the global charity which monitors the treatment of Christians worldwide to produce an annual World Watch List of the 50 most difficult countries for them to live in.
Last year, India was at its highest ever on the List, at no. 15; it looks set to rise higher in 2018 if present trends continue.

In January, April, May and June the number of incidents this year were more than double that of 2016.

In February and March the number is nearly double that of 2016.

There were two killings in the first half of 2017.

Eighty-four incidents were of violent assault (by Hindu extremists in 99% of cases): most beatings were severe.

In 32 of them, Christians would have died if timely medical-aid had not been provided.

A local partner told Open Doors, “When Christians are beaten up by extremists, they are injured mostly on their heads or vital body parts. There was one incident earlier this year when the victim was attacked by a sword to his head.

He was bleeding profusely and was critically injured… Attackers do not care if the person dies. They know they will not be punished because the Government (and hence the judiciary) will take their side. In most cases attackers go unpunished.”

In 37 incidents, victims were socially boycotted, or threatened with it, by Hindu villagers if they didn’t change their religion back to Hinduism.

In a further 34 incidents, victims were forced to leave their homes since they didn’t want to leave Christianity. (In 14 of these, victims had to completely leave their village or city).

The number of incidents against Christians in the six-most-populous Indian states has also been recorded.
The increase in persecution incidents in India has never been at such a great rate, say analysts.

In Maharashtra, which last week passed a bill to criminalise social exclusion based on religion, caste or race, 80 incidents against Christians were recorded (32 last year).

In Chhattisgarh, one of five states to have an ‘anti-conversion’ law, 122 incidents were recorded (72 last year).

This week, Jharkhand is the latest state to bring to its Parliament a bill for a similar “anti-conversion” law.

Hindunisation

Although the current ruling party, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), talks about secularism and unity, the background reality is that it is a centre-right party built as the political wing of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). RSS, a Hindu nationalist organisation, is widespread and openly upholds Hindu values and a conservative agenda.

So India is in a process of “Hindunisation”, born from the “Hindutva” ideology (literally: “Hindu principles”) of nationalism, which holds that the Indian nation can be a cohesive and aspiring force only if the tenets of one religion, one culture, and one nation are maintained.

RSS founder M S Golwalker identified five defining features of the Hindu nation, geographical unity, racial unity, cultural unity, linguistic unity, and the slogan “Hindu, Hindi, and Hindustan”.

He said:

“The non-Hindu people in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and revere Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but the glorification of the Hindu religion, that is, they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ingratitude towards this land and its age-long tradition, but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead; in one word they must cease to be foreigners or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizens’ rights”.

One Christian leader said, “Before I converted to Christianity, I used to be a staunch Hindu. I also joined RSS at that time and started working with them. The party upholds Hindutva ideology and believes that if Christians in India aren’t controlled, they would convert all the Hindus in the country and Hindutva would lose its identity.

Hence RSS wants to do their best to stop Christians from preaching about their faith. They would go to any extremes for that. I myself persecuted many Christians until I came to the Christian faith and realised what I had been doing.”

The BJP, led by the federal Prime Minister Narendra Modi, rules many states. Modi categorically denies persecution of Christians or other minorities. During a TV show he said he has no knowledge of the burning of churches or other types of persecution.

It has been said by an official linked to Hindu extremists that India should be “free of Christians by 2021”.

Meanwhile, Christians face social exclusion, expulsion from villages, detention, threats, abuse, physical violence and sometimes killings. Open Doors’ partners have identified a pattern. They say:

Hindu extremists apply a five step process to ‘bring Christians home’:

1. Pastor is chased out of the community. Church members not allowed to contact him or to leave their village and worship with other Christians.
2. Extremists prevent Christians from participating in the society. They are not allowed to have a government job, trade, draw water from the well, buy food and other products from local stores or even to talk to other people in the village.
3. As the numbers show, physical violence happens more frequently too. Families are threatened, Christians are beaten up, girls and women may be raped, children may be kidnapped.
4. At some point, the Hindu priest will come to indoctrinate Christians, to remind them that they were born as Hindus and to persuade them to come back to the religion of their community.
5. If they still resist, they are often forcibly taken from their house, pushed into a Hindu procession and dragged to a temple. There they have to bow to idols, recite scriptures and are often smeared with cow dung and/or cow urine (to “cleanse” them).

http://bit.ly/2vPCL40

View this newsletter:

http://hrwf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/India2017.pdf

Human Rights Without Frontiers – Pakistani Christian boy, 16, charged with blasphemy for discussing his faith

World Watch Monitor, 19 July 2017. A 16-year-old Pakistani Christian boy has been charged with blasphemy for talking with a colleague about his belief in Jesus, the second such incident in a month.

Shahzad Masih, 16, a cleaner at a hospital in the city of Dinga (near the religiously conservative city of Gujrat), was arrested on 13 July after his colleague, Ishtiaq Ahmed Jalali, accused him of insulting Islam’s prophet Muhammad, a crime punishable with death in Pakistan.

A month earlier, on 15 June, Ashfaq Masih, 28, was arrested in the nearby city of Lahore for saying he believed Jesus to be the final prophet.

The latest incident took place at the Shameem Riaz Polyclinic. Jalali, who works at the hospital pharmacy, is a member of Tehreek-e-Tahfuz-e-Islam Pakistan, an organisation that strives to protect the name and honour of Muhammad.

It belongs to the Barelvi school of Islamic thought, which is considered “moderate” and has even faced criticism from other Muslims for its “polytheism” of worshipping at shrines.

Barelvis are known for the special respect they afford to Muhammad, more so than any other Islamic school of thought, and are chief supporters of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Shahzad Masih’s father, Shafaqat, who works as a labourer, told World Watch Monitor that the argument related to who Christian worship.

“My son told him that we follow Jesus and then their discussion became sour, at which point a doctor intervened and calmed them down,” he said.

The police complaint was lodged by another man, Nadeem Ahmed, who claims to have called Shahzad Masih from his mobile phone repair shop, which is beside the hospital, to ask him about what he’d said. In his report, Ahmed states that Masih repeated his “abusive words” against Muhammad and then fled.

Police reports in Pakistan, called First Information Reports (FIR), are often key in court cases, though the veracity of the claims in such reports is often the subject of contention.

Shafaqat Masih says that two days prior to the lodging of the FIR, his son’s colleague, Ishtiaq Jalali, told his son that Christians worship at the shrines of Muslim sages.

“My son told him that he didn’t know about this and he would ask me about it,” Shafaqat Masih said. “Then on 13 July, I was at work when he called me at around 4 pm. He had returned from hospital but they asked him to come to the mobile phone repair shop, which is in front of the hospital.

“I told him that it would take me some time to get there, so he should call his uncle, Rafaqat, whom I also called on the phone to go to him. I arrived at around 7 pm at the hospital, where they all had gathered. We tried to intervene, but they did not let us talk.

Then they told us that they did not want to make the matter public and wanted to settle it amicably. At the same time, they kept calling others to join them and a large number of clerics gathered while we three were all alone [Shahzad, his father and uncle].

“One of the clerics told me that the head of a nearby madrassah had called them to the madrassah to settle the matter, after which the entire mob went there.

“[His uncle] Rafaqat and I also went there, but I sent Rafaqat to go inside along with Shahzad, who they had in their custody. The leader of the group argued that the crime committed by Shahzad was punishable with death alone. While they were discussing this, two police vans arrived.

The chief policeman asked for Shahzad, but they were reluctant to give him up and only handed him over on the promise that the decision would be taken the next morning. As I was standing outside, I saw the police taking Shahzad along with them, but since then they haven’t allowed us to see him.”

The police chief, Shahbaz Hinjra, told a local newspaper that Masih was in their custody and that they were investigating the matter.

Former Punjab parliamentarian Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, leader of the largest Christian political party, told World Watch Monitor that he had personally investigated the matter and found that initial argument had centred over Shahzad Masih’s colleague’s attempts to convert him to Islam.

“When our people try to defend themselves and their faith then often it becomes an issue and later such cases are lodged,” he said.

One of Jalali’s relatives, Muhammad Saqib Shakeel Jalali, a leader of Tehreek-e-Tahfuz-e-Islam Pakistan, told a local TV station a day after Masih’s arrest: “If the blasphemer is acquitted of the charge then each member of our organisation would attack him.”

Masih’s father says he and his family have been on the run ever since. “We don’t even know what to eat and where to live,” he said.

His uncle, Rafaqat, told World Watch Monitor that there are about 25 Christian families in the area and no such incident had ever taken place before.

The Tehreek-e-Tahfuz-e-Islam Pakistan website claims that no suspect has yet been awarded the death penalty under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, even though the Christian woman Asia Bibi has been on death row for blasphemy since 2010.

The website also says that liberal Muslims want to amend the current blasphemy law and must be stopped, a key reason for the organisation’s founding 10 years ago. In April, a Muslim student was beaten to death in the city of Mardan following an accusation of blasphemy.

Several blasphemy cases have been registered before in Gujrat, one of the most conservative areas of the Punjab province. In August 2015, 15 Christians were accused of blasphemy after they used the word “apostle” to describe a pastor who had died years before.

Then in July 2016, a Christian man was accused of blasphemy after a religious argument on the messaging service WhatsApp. Both cases are still pending in the court.

http://bit.ly/2tqCqUD

http://hrwf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Pakistan2017.pdf

Human Rights Without Frontiers – Christians in shock after pastor shot dead in ‘safe’ Punjab

World Watch Monitor, 17 July 2017. The Christian community in Ludhiana, the largest city in India’s north-western state of Punjab, is in shock after a pastor was shot dead outside his Pentecostal church on Saturday evening (15 July).

Sultan Masih, 47, who also ran a school for the poor, was gunned down by two people on a motorbike, who shot him at close range outside the Temple of God Church, where he was senior pastor. He suffered multiple wounds to his body and head.

Hundreds of Christians took to the streets on Sunday (16 July), blocking off a major national highway (the road to Jalandhar) for three hours, and only ceasing once they had received assurances from the police that the perpetrators would be brought to justice.

“Pastor Sultan Masih was my neighbour and my friend,” fellow pastor Paul Tamizharasan told World Watch Monitor following the funeral today (17 July).

“Family members are grieving and we hope the government will catch the accused. We demand answers and have gone to the Punjab government, but they couldn’t find who did this.

“The state of Punjab is very safe in India for Christians. There are Sikhs living here, they are also a religious minority in India. We are also a minority, but never before have we had any threats. But unfortunately this has happened and we are all shocked about how this is possible. Nobody knows how this can happen.

“Two people came by bike. Every Saturday, the pastor, after finishing his Sunday-service preparations, at 8.30 pm he will come out. As usual, he had been talking with people outside, very casually. Then at 8.45, two people came very near, about 2-3 feet, and they shot his leg, and his face and his chest.”

CCTV cameras recorded footage of the attack, but a police spokesman said it was too dark to make out the attackers’ faces.

Masih had been pastor of the church for 20 years and also ran a school for the poor from inside the church. He is survived by his wife, Sarabjit, and sons, Elisha, 26, and Hanok, 18.

According to The Tribune, the Punjab Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, has promised 500,000 rupees (around $8,000) for Masih’s widow and a guaranteed job with the police for one of Masih’s sons. He also promised that the killers would be brought to justice.

Some reports say that Masih had received threats before his death. The police denied this but refused to rule out “terror” as a possible motive.

Meanwhile the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee said the attackers were trying to “disturb the peace” and called on the Christian community to “maintain the peace”.

http://bit.ly/2vvig8D

View this newsletter:

http://hrwf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/India2017.pdf

Human Rights Without Frontiers – Pakistan: Muslim university is the first to host a church in Pakistan

Catholic employees and students will soon be able to worship on campus

La Croix, 08 June 2017. In a corner of the University of Agriculture Faisalabad (UAF), a large banner at the entrance of a Christian area is emblazoned with the photos of a Catholic bishop and a picture of Saint Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. Additionally, the banner says “Let us make a house for the Lord”.

While most Pakistani universities host mosques, UAF will be the first to allow a church on its campus. An area has been set aside near the quarters of 70 Christian university employees, most of them working as sanitary workers, gardeners and support staff.

For Farrukh Habib, UAF music teacher, this is a dream come true.

“This will be the first Muslim university to have a minority place of worship. Now our children can access catechism right on their doorstep. Christian students are happy too. We thank both the university administration and the diocese”, Habib told ucanews.com.

“Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the largest student union in the country usually oppose cultural activities in other universities but here they respect us,” he said.

More than 400 Christians in UAF celebrated when Bishop Joseph Arshad of Faisalabad, together with the Muslim Vice Chancellor of UAF, laid the church foundation stone on May 16.

Faisalabad Diocese will contribute 300,000 rupees (US$4,500) toward the project whose total cost is estimated at 7.6 million rupees. The university has allotted over a square kilometer for the church construction.

Established in 1906 as the first major institution of higher agricultural education in the undivided Punjab, UAF houses more than 20 mosques and has separate hostels for women and men.

The challenges

According to Habib, it was not easy to get the plan approved. “In the 1990s, we submitted a request for a church building but the administration did not agree. There were no lawns in the proposed plan but now a clean environment will also benefit the worshippers,” said Habib.

Back then, UAF employees said the dirt ground near their homes must be transformed as well as the church being built. “We need lawns as a venue to hold church programs as well as arrange marriages in our community,” Habib said.

Bishop Arshad held a ground-breaking ceremony for the campus church in 2015 but the project still stalled. Bishop Arshad said it took him another three years to negotiate with university officials.

“We had to work hard as many officers kept delaying our proposal,” Bishop Arshad said. “Finally, we have great news for the whole Christian community in Pakistan. This is a landmark for the diocese.”

Chapels in government-run health or educational facilities are a rare phenomenon in Pakistan which has suffered terrorism and religious fundamentalism for decades.

Most of the incidents of mob attacks and suicide bombings on Sunday worshipers have been reported in Punjab, home to over 1.5 million Christians.

There are no places of worship for Hindu or Sikh students in 108 state-run universities. As opposed to Muslims, who openly pray in parks and roads, Christians and other religious minorities prefer to pray indoors. However, Christian conventions still encourage the community to make the sign of the cross in public.

Saad Suleman, a doctoral candidate in Veterinary Medicine, said his Muslim friends congratulated him the day the university church was announced.

“Christian students face difficulty in getting combined rooms in the hostels [even though] we have a strong administration who try to avoid religious problems,” he said.

“The vice chancellor gave us permission to hold a Christmas program in 2014. However, it was canceled due to the Peshawar school massacre. We never asked again,” said Suleman.

“The Catholic cathedral, situated three kilometers from UAF, is our usual Sunday destination. Now we have our own church, we will be able to offer regular prayers like other students,” he added.

http://bit.ly/2sUYJ0O

Human Rights Without Frontiers – Pakistan: 62-year-old Ahmadi man shot dead in Rahim Yar Khan

Rana Tanveer

The Tribune, 04 May 2017. A 62-year-old Ahmadi man was shot dead on Wednesday night in Saddar area of Rahim Yar Khan district.

Basharat Ahmad was on his way to his house in Green Town from a petrol pump situated in Zahir Pir Road when unidentified assailants intercepted him. He was taken to a local hospital where doctors pronounced him dead on arrival. The 62-year-old sustained two bullet wounds.

The reason behind the murder is yet to be ascertained. However, Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya spokesperson Saleemuddin claimed Ahmad was targeted because of his religious beliefs.

“Ahmad had no enmity and was gunned down because of the hate campaign against Ahmadis,” the spokesperson said. He further said security agencies should take stern action against hate mongers who propagate Ahmadi killings.

A FIR has been registered under section 302 of Pakistan Penal Code, on the complaint of Ataul Quddoos, the son in law of the deceased.

Ahmad is the fourth Ahmadi to have been killed in the province in the past five weeks.

On April 18, Professor Tahira Malik was killed at her residence in Punjab University, Lahore. On April 7 Dr Ashfaq Ahmad, 68, a veterinary doctor and a PhD in food and nutrition, was on his way to an Ahmadi place of worship to offer prayers when he was targeted in Sabzazar area of Lahore.

Six Ahmadis killed in 2016, says report.

On March 30, Advocate Malik Saleem Latif, a cousin of Nobel laureate Dr Abdus Salam, was gunned down in Nankana Sahib while he was going to the court with his son Malik Awais on a motorcycle.

View this newsletter:

http://hrwf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Pakistan2017-4.pdf

Human Rights Without Frontiers – Xinjiang court gives 5 Christians harsh sentences

ChinaAid, 25 April 2017. In a move that a defense attorney termed harsh, five Christians in China’s northwestern Xinjiang were jailed for 3-5 years on April 18 for participating in the planning of a Bible study.

On April 18, a court in Changji, Xinjiang, sentenced Christians Yang Zhaocun and Wang Lulu to five years in prison, Cheng Yajie to four years, and Liu Yan and Zheng Lan to three years.

Officials tried the defendants last October on charges of illegal assembly and “gathering a crowd to disturb public order”, after they held a private Christian event at Zheng Lan’s home. The court did not notify the defense lawyers of the court’s verdict.

One defense attorney said, “The judges wrongfully determined the nature of the case, and the sentences were unreasonably harsh. How can private gatherings disrupt public order? The public security bureau exceeded its authority and crossed a line”.

During the trial, Wang and Cheng admitted that they participated in an “illegal assembly,” and Zheng confessed to hosting so-called “illegal religious activities”.

Their supposed crimes stem from a gathering of more than 50 Christians at Zheng’s home on 5 March 2016, where the congregants studied the Bible and listened to sermons.

According to a government document, Yang and Liu were responsible for researching potential meeting places and transporting the meeting’s attendees, activities which make them accessories to crime, while the others were labeled primary criminals.

When authorities raided the gathering, Yang, Zheng, Cheng, and Wang were taken into custody, while Liu was seized at her home.

All of the defendants plead innocent, and all are planning to appeal.

View this newsletter:

http://hrwf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/China2017.pdf

Human Rights Without Frontiers – Village crackdown on ‘illegal religious activities’ nets dozens of Uyghurs

Radio Free Asia, 26 April 2017. Dozens of ethnic Uyghurs from a small village in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region, including several sets of siblings, have been swept up in a recent crackdown on “illegal religious activities” after they attended lectures by unsanctioned imams, according to local officials.

At least 52 Uyghurs in Tomosteng township’s No. 2 village, in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture’s Yarkand (Shache) county, have been arrested under related charges, the 140-household village’s party secretary Ablet Hekim told RFA’s Uyghur Service in an interview earlier this week.

Of those arrests, 39 were the result of a “recent” sweep by local authorities, Hekim said, adding that 35 are now in jail and the remaining four-all of whom are “unofficial imams” that the state does not recognize-have been sent for “political reeducation”.

The other 13 have been serving sentences “since previous sweeps during the 2000s,” according to the party secretary.
“This week we have handed down verdicts for 13 out of the 35 [now held in jail] and delivered the official notices to their families, door to door,” Hekim said.

Sentences for the 13 ranged from two-and-a-half to 10 years in prison.

“The 35 listened to ‘illegal religious sermons’ at least two times, because we usually only warn one-time listeners and let them go,” he said.

According to Hekim, the sermons did not contain any sensitive references to “dividing the country” or anti-government rhetoric often linked to unsanctioned religious activities.

“They were sentenced simply because they had listened to sermons by the unofficial imam Abdukerim at an unauthorized venue [outside of a government sanctioned-mosque]”, he said.

Hekim provided RFA with a list of all 35 Uyghurs held amid the crackdown, as well as their ages.

Among the 35, three women: Buhelish Nur, Heyrinsa Ehmet and Patima Seyittursun, were punished for “inviting people to attend” the sermons, he said.

At least five sets of siblings were jailed as part of the recent sweep, including brothers Ahmat, Tursun and Imin Zayit, as well as sister and brother Nurimangul and Memet Talip.

“Ahmat Zayit’s family has no one of working age left at home, so there is no one maintaining their fields,” he Hekim said.

“His kids have been taken in by his nephew’s family”.

Report of arrest

RFA obtained confirmation of the 52 arrests in No. 2 village while investigating a report published last week by exile Uyghur website Hoylam.com, which claimed that a 73-year-old Uyghur woman named Helchihan Hoshur was detained after making disparaging comments about Chinese policies during a “self-criticism” session in Tomosteng township’s neighboring No. 7 village.

Party secretaries from three different villages in Tomosteng township, including No. 3 village chief Qembernisa Hashim, were unable to confirm Hoshur’s detention.

“We do not have anybody like that, all the detainees in our village are males, Hashim told RFA, without providing details about the detainees there.

“We would have recognized her, since we conduct a lot of political educational work with her family members”.
RFA was unable to confirm the identities of the male detainees from No. 7 village or the reason for their arrests.

China has vowed to crack down on what it calls religious extremism in Xinjiang, and regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.

While China blames Uyghur extremists for terrorist attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.

View this newsletter

http://hrwf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/China2017.pdf

Human Rights Without Frontiers – China: Police raid at the underground Catholic mass in Heilongjiang

Acting together, the Religious Affairs Bureau, Public Security and the United Front carried out the operation. Seized before Easter, the bishop of Wenzhou is back home. Bishop Guo Xijin of Mindong is still in police custody. The confrontation with the Vatican increases.

AsiaNews.it, 27 April 2017. Heilongjiang’s Communist authorities congratulated themselves for “blocking illegal religious activities”.

When police raided a small community hall during Mass, they ransacked the place and tried to arrest the parish priest and the community’s lay leader.

The action was taped and the video was briefly posted on-line. In it, several police agents can be seen discussing animatedly with worshippers and trying to remove Fr Shen Yanjun, an underground priest who took up his post in the church in Qinshan (Wudalianchi) seven months ago.

In a statement, local authorities said they “successfully stopped an underground Catholic priest from holding an illegal religious activity”.

The police raid was a joint operation between the Religious Affairs Bureau, Public Security and the United Front.

Since they are opposed to a dialogue between the Chinese government and the Holy See, the Religious Affairs Ministry and the United Front (which includes the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association) continue to clash with the Church and the Vatican.

Before Easter they seized two underground bishops, Mgr Vincent Guo Xijin of Mindong and Mgr Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou, to prevent them from celebrating Easter services in their respective diocese.

Both are recognised by the Holy See but not by the government. Sources told AsiaNews that Mgr Shao is now back home whilst Mgr Guo’s whereabouts remain unknown.

View this newsletter:

http://hrwf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/China2017.pdf

Human Rights Without Frontiers – Pakistan: Jailed Christians forced to convert to Islam, a disgrace on the justice system says Pakistani Church

Kamran Chaudhry

AsiaNews, 30 March 2017. Religious leaders and Christian activists are calling for action against a prosecutor who confessed to pushing Christian prisoners to give up their faith to embrace Islam.

This comes after Pakistani media reported that Deputy District Public Prosecutor Syed Anees Shah told 42 Christian prisoners before an anti-terrorism court in Lahore, Punjab, that he could “guarantee their acquittal” if they converted to Islam.

Contacted by a British newspaper, Shah first denied the allegation then conceded that he had offered them a choice.

The Christians involved in the case are all from Youhanabad, Lahore. They were arrested in connection with the lynching of two suspected Muslim terrorists shortly after the Taliban attacked two churches on 15 March 2015.

“It is really bad to lead people astray,” said Reverend Arshad Ashknaz of Christ Church, from one of the churches attacked in Youhanabad, speaking to AsiaNews. “This,” he added, “will give a bad image to the court and the whole legal fraternity.

In his view, “The public prosecutor can be sued for this prejudiced action. We plan to meet him soon. The government should reject this. Fear of death can force anyone to change religion”.

This has not happened in isolation. Forced conversions are a hot topic in the country. Pakistani human rights organisations note that each year about a thousand Hindu and Christian women are forced to convert to marry Muslim men.

According to the latest Report on religious minorities in Pakistan by the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, five Christians converted to Islam in 2014, including three teenager girls who were abducted and forced into marriage.

Against the backdrop, Sindh last year became the first Pakistani province to pass a law against forced religious conversions. However, the provincial government was forced to go back on its decision to protect minorities after opposition from some religious scholars.

For Reverend Ashknaz, “There is no religious freedom. The whole system supports Christian women who marry their Muslim spouses, but it is a torment for Christian men who do the same. Their families suffer and their houses are burnt”.

According to Nadeem Anthony, a Christian lawyer, Asia Bibi, the Christian mother on death row for the past seven years charged with blaspheming the Prophet Mohammad, was made a similar offer.

However, “My faith is alive and I will never convert”, she told him when they met at the Sheikhupura District Jail in 2010.

“This is a common practice. Even my Muslim friends asked me to do the same. Such impositions are expected in cases of religious persecution”, said the lawyer, who is also a human rights activist.

View this newsletter:

http://hrwf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Pakistan2017.pdf