By Jawad Mazhar, Worthy News Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
SARGODHA, PAKISTAN (Worthy News) -- There was concern Tuesday, February 24, over reports of new Muslim violence against Pakistani Christians, which included a murder, rape, and kidnappings of Christians in Pakistan's Punjab province and other areas, sometimes with support from authorities, local residents and rights investigators said.
In one of the latest incidents, Ashraf Masih, 30, was killed by his Muslim employees after asking for his wages, said advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC) with Website persecution.org.
The U.S. -based group cited the Catholic Church in Pakistan as saying that Masih was murdered in the village of Shajwal Chak 172 GB where he worked as a milk collector from farms and houses.
“Desperate to support his family, [after two months of work] Ashraf returned on February 1 and demanded his wages. This enraged the three Muslim men, who said, "You are Esai [a derogatory term for Christians] and you demanded your pay from Muslims, what courage you have. We will finish you right now. Then go to your Esa [Christ], He will give you everything." After killing Ashraf, the three men fled," ICC added.
Elsewhere in the area, ICC said it had learned that six unidentified men on a robbing spree in a rural village in Pakistan last month entered a Christian home where they gang-raped a 14-year-old girl in front of her parents “to violate their faith.”
The January 10 attack, which news of which just emerged, happened after they returned to “Rafiq Masih's house and began mocking Rafiq and his wife for being Christians,” ICC said. “Not satisfied with the damage they had already inflicted, the thieves then bound Rafiq and his wife and gang-raped Rafiq's teenage daughter Naomi right in front of them.”
They left Naomi unconscious and in critical condition and escaped with stolen items they had taken from them and several other Muslim and Christians households. The robbers were “physically assaulting residents, while taking cash, televisions, cell phones and other valuables,” ICC said.
The violence is part of a wider Islamic campaign against the spread of Christianity and minority Christians, many of whom live in impoverished areas of Pakistan, and who are often viewed by militants as observing a "Western" and "American religion" advocacy groups and officials have suggested. Just several days earlier, Muslim extremists attacked a Christian man with axes and clubs in Chak 28 SB village, part of the town of Sargodha, local Christians said. The bed ridden man, impoverished Rasheed Masih, was apparently attacked for owing a small amount of Pakistan rupees to a local Muslim shop keeper.
Doctors at a local told Worthy News and its partner news agency BosNewsLife Masih sustained brain injuries in the January 2 attack, and they could not predict "how long will it take him to regain consciousness." And days earlier, a Christian youth Sarfraz Masih said he was mistreated by five Muslim militants in the Punjab area of Head Maralla.
Sarfraz Masih, who was recovering from his injuries Tuesday, February 24, told told Worthy News that he was attacked after trying to prevent Muslims of entering the home where his sister was staying alone. “This act of mine provoked ire of the Muslim men and they retaliated after half an hour armed with bamboo clubs. I was eventually rescued but neighbors.
However they had already injured me and ransacked the house, saying they were searching for a pigeon,” he said. Police said they made one arrest but were still searching for the four other suspects. Protesting against the anti-Christian violence and the alleged police reluctance to act has proven difficult with reports that police have broken up several demonstrations.
In one of the latest incident Pakistani police reportedly shot at demonstrators after officers allegedly robbed a Christian widow on February 9 in the city of Sargodha. “When the widow's Christian neighbors flooded the streets to protest, the police returned and fired on the crowd, sparking a three-hour standoff,” ICC said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The troubles began after Police Inspector Muhammad Afzal Lalli, a radical Muslim, was leading a drug bust in Sargodha and two suspects hid in the home of a Christian widow. The widow's son, Arif Masih, said that “none of us was at home, because a close relative of us had passed away and all of our family members had gone to their residence for mourning."
Police followed the suspects into the house, breaking open the door without a search warrant. "In our absence, Factory Area Police not only broke door locks of our residence, but they took my wife's gold jewelry and 20,000 Rupees cash [$283]," said Arif, an employee of the Pakistan Air Force.
In the same area, Family members of the Christian man, Akmal Masih, also known as "Teddy," told ICC that on January 2 a close aide of the radical Muslim police chief Muhammad Afzal Lalli came to their house and demanded a bribe of 20,000 Pakistani Rupees ($250).The man was “falsely accused bootlegging to pressure him to convert to Islam,” ICC said. Another man, Faraz Tariq, was held for 24 hours in police custody and “tortured” last month in Lahore for being an active Christian, before being released, his family explained Worthy News. Police officials had no comment.
The reported attacks came amid reports of an increased number of kidnappings Christians in Punjab and other areas of Pakistan. On Tuesday, February 24, a father was still searching for his Christian daughter after she and her newborn son were reportedly kidnapped to force her to embrace Islam.
ICC cited Ghulab Masih as saying his daughter was kidnapped February 8 by her Muslim husband for refusing to convert to Islam and “could face torture and even death.” His daughter, Kiran Bibi married Muhammad Jawad Khan on the condition that they would both be free to live and worship according to their own religions.
“The couple began to fight after the birth of their son. Kiran wanted the boy to be baptized, given a Christian name, and raised to become a pastor. Khan, on the other hand, wanted his son to be raised as a Muslim.” Eventually, “Khan forgot his promise to respect her religion and began pressuring Kiran to convert to Islam.”
She fled to her father, but “on the night of February 8, Khan and three accomplices identified as Chand, Muhammad Elahi and Kalu, broke into Ghulab's house brandishing firearms and forcibly taking Kiran and her infant son to an unknown location,” ICC said.
Yet, sometimes police discover the whereabouts of the hostages. Last month, Rawalpindi Police recovered a Christian baby girl, who was kidnapped December 31 for ransom and detained the abductors, City Police Officer Rao Muhammad Iqbal told Worthy News.
The girl's father Amjad Yousaf said his brother received a mobile phone call from the captors who demanded a ransom of half million Pakistani Rupees ($6,400) for her release. Police began tracking the call and soon discovered her in Jhanda Chichi, an outskirts of the city of Rawalpindi.
Others, including Christians, are held as slaves, according to the Bonded Labor Freedom Front Pakistan (BLFPP) by hard-line Muslims. It described how two men Muzaffar Masih and Shamsher Masih, both tied in chains, were recently recovered from the custody of landlords in Punjab province's Kaloki Village. Local authorities have reportedly been reluctant to take legal action against bonded labor, a widespread controversial practice in Pakistan.
To raise awareness of the plight of Christians, the Human Rights Society of Pakistan (HRSP) said it had decided to confer an award upon a well-known minority rights activist this month. It said it would give one of its Human Rights Awards for 2008 to the late M P Bhindara, who was a Christian national assembly member and staunch defender of minorities rights. He closely cooperated with the influential Pakistan Muslim League during his life.
Pakistan's government has come under increased pressure to improve protection of minority Christians in this predominantly Islamic nation. (With Worthy News Research and reporting by Stefan J. Bos).