2009 "Worst Year" For Pakistan Christians

Thursday, January 21, 2010

By Worthy News Asia Service
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (Worthy News)-- Last year was the worst period of persecution against Christians in Pakistan in thelast decade, with attacks, arrests and detentions that reportedly killed some 130 Christians across the Islamic country, an advocacy group said Thursday, January 21.
In one of the bloodiest single incidents, in August, eight Christians were shot or burnt alive in the town of Gojrain Punjab province when he Christian community was attacked by a mob of 3,000 Muslims over alleged blasphemy of Islam, said the Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).
Earlier in April, four Christians were injured and one died in an attack on a Christian colony in the city of Karachi, the group explained. And, in July, an attack on the village of Bahmani Wala resulted in "100 houses beingburnt to the ground, looted and vandalized, and the assault of women and girls," according to CLAAS investigators.
CLAAS said violence was fueled by controversial blasphemy laws. Anyone found guilty of desecratingthe Koran, viewed as a holy book by Muslims, face execution or a lengthy sentence in prison, where conditions are reportedly poor.
"As such, the blasphemy laws are an easy tool in the hands of Muslim extremists who, unlike the Christians, have little to fear in the way of legal repercussions. More often than not, they get off scot free for the atrocities theycommit against Christians, " added Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS UK.
"The wave of blasphemy hysteria in the last year has been leveled at Christians more than any other minority community," he said.
Additionally, suspects, their families, judges, lawyers and defense witnesses are often threatened with death by clerics and Muslim extremists who attend court hearings, CLAAS and other rights groups say.Under blasphemy legislation, a charge can be brought against a suspect with testimony of just one person.
"The suspect is immediately detained in jail where he can remain for months or years before the case is finally brought to trial," Staeed said. "It is also the fact that they are fomenting hatred and divisions between the majority Muslim population and the Christian minority. By singling out and protecting only one religion, Islam, these laws serve only to elevate Islam to the status of a “superior”religion".
"Muslim extremists", he claimed, view the blasphemy laws as "a green light from the state to discriminate against fellow Pakistanis who do not share the same religion," which leads to "unhesitating acts of violence".
"This underlying hatred could be seen clearly in several incidents last year. " CLAAS has campaigned the blasphemy laws to be repealed and last year handed in a petition signed by over 9,000 people to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, he said.
The government says however it is cracking down on extremism and has banned militant groups such as Sipah-i-sahaba and Lashkar-i-Jhvangi. However CLAAS official Staeed said these moves have "not been sufficient to stop attacks on religious minorities."
He said blasphemy laws should be addressed "to discourage acts of violence against Christians, be they large scale attacks on communities or lone extremists with a personal grudge." (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).