By BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos with Jawad Mazhar, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- Christians in Pakistan's volatile North West Frontier Province (NWFP) faced new tensions Wednesday, January 30, amid reports that a Pakistani pastor has been shot and killed because of his involvement in evangelistic work.
Human rights investigators said Sajid William, 25, was shot dead by Muslim extremists in NWFP's capital Peshawar, near Afghanistan, where worked as an evangelist and office manager of relief organization “Shelter Now International.”
"He was reportedly killed when three bullets hit his chest while he was on his way from his office on an official vehicle," said rights group International Christian Concern (ICC) with Website www.persecution.org. "The killer then took William’s cell phone and called his family to tell them that he had murdered him."
It was the second loss for Sheter Now International. In April 2005, Babar Samson, another pastor and staff member of the group, was also murdered along with his driver by what rights watchers described as "religious extremists" in Peshawar.
"MURDERED FOR FAITH"
William, who was an active member in his local church, leaves behind a wife and barely three-year-old daughter. His widow reportedly described him as a “martyr” who die for his faith. "“We believe that William was murdered for his faith and was a martyr,” said a
pastor Hashmat of an Assembly of God Church in Peshawar in comments published by ICC.
“Keeping his martyrdom in view the family and the community would not go for any legal proceedings,” Hashmat was quoted as saying, apparently because of security. concerns. Local police have allegedly been reluctant to investigate the case in an area known for attacks by Muslim insurgents linked to the Taliban and al Qaeda terror networks, who are based in the tribal belt along the Afghan border.
Hundreds of people, including Christians, have been killed in attacks and fighting between Pakistani security forces and militants. In one of the latest incidents Wednesday, January 30, three suspected militants were killed when explosives they were handling went off accidentally near Peshawar, police said.
At the same time, bodies of some 13 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers kidnapped by militants last week were found in an abandoned vehicle, Reuters news agency quoted officials and police as saying Wednesday, January 30. The bodies were recovered in Darra Adam Kheil, a tribal area near the city of Peshawar in NWFP, where fighting broke out on Friday after militants seized four trucks carrying ammunition and other supplies for soldiers.
MORE INCIDENTS REPORTED
It were the latest in a series of incidents. "Over recent years the North West Frontier Province has steadily become a hotbed of Islamic radicalism," said Barnabas Fund, a group supporting Christians facing difficulties in especially Muslim nations. "The increasing power of the Taliban in the region and the failure of the central government to control the area have meant that Christians are becoming exposed to increasing danger," Barnabas Fund said.
In 2003 provincial legislators reportedly unanimously passed a bill giving Shari`a, or 'Islamic law', precedence over secular provincial legislation. "Militants have also enforced an unofficial parallel justice system based on extreme versions of Shari`a. This has placed great pressure on minorities," said Barnabas Fund, which has close contacts with Christians in the region.
However NWFP is no exception, the group told BosNewsLife. "The strength of Islamic radicalism throughout Pakistan was recently indicated by the assassination of [former prime minister and opposition leader] Benazir Bhutto," Barnabas Fund explained. It also cited examples in Punjab Province, where crime groups have alleged "colluded" with local authorities.
Among several incidents, suspected Muslim criminals allegedly kidnapped and sold for "illegal human organ extraction and transplantation," a Christian teenager in the village of Marr Balochaan, BosNewsLife learned this week. Francis Nadeem, 15, disappeared last month, said his father Sadeeq Masih. The detained suspects say they threw the body in a canal, but his corpse has never been found, Masih said.
ANOTHER MAN KILLED
Earlier this month a man was killed in Punjab Province by unknown gunmen after apparently mistaking him for his brother who had been accused of blasphemy against Islam. Simon Emmanuel was shot to death on January 9, after his brother, Younis Tasadaq, came home from the United States to visit his family, several Christian sources said.
Tasadaq was imprisoned in 1998 on charges that he had committed blasphemy against Islam, a charge that could carry the death penalty. Under international pressure, Tasadaq was released and fled to the United States in 1999. Barnabas Fund and other groups have warned that Christians will continue to face "severe opposition" from militant Islamic groups. Despite the apparent threats and violence, churches continue to expand in rural areas, including in village Chak 85 NB, outside Sargodha, one of Punjab’s largest cities.
Bishop Anthony Lobbo told BosNewsLife he opened a Catholic church there to tell that “ unlike Jihad, or the Muslim Holy War, Christians should invite individuals from other religions to join Christianity with love, care and comfort, helping them morally, financially and spiritually.”
He said it is the duty of each Christian "to fulfill the great commission of the Lord Jesus Christ," to spread the Gospel around the world. Muslims make up some 97 percent of Pakistan's population, while Hindus comprise 1.5 percent, and Christians 1.7 percent, according to estimates. (Read more from Jawad Mazhar via www.raysofdevelopments.org.) Also visit: www.bosnewslife.com).
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