Pakistan Christians Fear Violence and Taliban Style Government

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Tuesday, July 19, 2005
By BosNewsLife News Center

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife) -- Christians in Pakistan faced a new period of uncertainty Monday, July 18, amid news of increased violence against believers and the adoption of what human rights groups call "a move towards a Taliban-style government" in a key region.

"The Hasba Act [in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province]" adopted Friday, July 15, by the mainly Islamic local legislature will create "a department modeled on the repressive Department of Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue in [neighboring] Afghanistan," said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

"This department led to religious police roaming Afghan streets confronting men without beards of sufficient length and enforcing the universal wearing of the head-to-toe burqa dress," added CSW, which investigates the situation of reportedly persecuted Christians in the area. The Pakistan government Friday, July 15, reportedly asked the Supreme Court to rule on the controversial Islamic law.

News of the legislation comes as worries increase over the health of a Pakistani Christian, who was arrested last month in the same province and charged under Pakistan’s already tight blasphemy law, human rights activists say. Police arrested 60-year old Yousaf Masih on June 28, in Nowshera, North-West Frontier Province, on the grounds that he desecrated the Koran by allegedly burning pages with Koranic verses written on them.


Soon after several Christian areas of Pakistan were reportedly attacked and hundreds of homes were destroyed by Islamic militants around the city of Peshawar, about 172 km (107 miles) west of the capital Islamabad.

But the Voice Of the Martyrs (VOM) USA, a Christian human rights watchdog, said Masih can not read. The "burning incident," it said, only happened when the man, who worked as a sweeper for the Pakistani military, came across a bag of "rough papers" at the office at a major's home and was asked to destroy them.

Under Pakistan’s blasphemy rules however, "offending Islam" carries a mandatory life sentence. The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), another human rights group based in Pakistan assisting Masih in his defense, has reported that the superintendent of his prison fears “that any criminal in the jail may take an opportunity to kill him with an intention to inherit paradise and be forgiven."


Local Islamic organizations have held protest marches to demand the death penalty for Masih, prompting some local Christians to flee the area, news reports said. Appearing distraught and with bruises on his body, Masih reportedly begged the APMA delegation who met with him in jail, “Save me, they will kill me,” referring to other inmates.

Masih is one of 80 Christians now imprisoned for blasphemy in Pakistan, and 650 persons, both Muslim and non-Muslim, have been falsely accused and arrested under the blasphemy laws since 1988, said the well informed Catholic Zenit news agency.

In addition Christian native missionaries have also suffered, Christian Aid Mission (CAM) told BosNewsLife News Center. CAM, which supports native Christians, said it had learned from locals that "Gospel workers faced a very hostile response from people all over the country when inviting them to buy Scriptures. This reaction was due to the news claiming the Quran was desecrated by US officials," at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility for terror suspects.


Earlier after a missionary team retreated from a Muslim celebration where they distributed Bibles "a suicide bomber motivated by sectarian rivalry killed 20 and wounded 200 of the Shiite Muslim revelers," CAM added. Although there was no evidence the attack was directed against those buying Bibles, the incident showed "the atmosphere" in which Christians live, the organization said.

There are now fears that tighter Islamic legislation in the North West Frontier Province and other regions will lead to more violence and extremism. "The US government considers Pakistan an ally in the war on terror but these blasphemy laws are a form of state-sponsored terror against its own people," said Nina Shea, Director of the US based Center for Religious Freedom.

"The US should immediately reconsider its plans to sell F-16s to Pakistan until these laws are repealed and those accused of blasphemy are released from prison. Religious freedom is a keystone American value and a fundamental human right under international law," Shea stressed in remarks monitored by BosNewsLife. (With BosNewsLife Research, BosNewsLife News Center and reports from Pakistan and the US).