According to the independently audited World Watch Monitor report, every major South Asian country is in the top 50 list of countries with the worst record of persecution of Christians, but only one is in the top 10. Pakistan is at Number 8 (India 21, Bangladesh 43 and Sri Lanka 44). Mostly poor and illiterate, many Christians exist in conditions close to slavery, even those not in bonded labour. They are restricted to the most menial jobs – sanitation work, cleaning and farm labour. Vulnerable to landlords and employers, some of whom pressure them to convert to Islam – and in at least two cases raped the two year old daughter when the father refused to convert – they are trapped in poverty where drugs and crime are all too convenient sources of income or escape. The situation is worsening, the driving force being, of course, the increasing radicalisation of Pakistani society. The Taliban and other radical groups are increasingly influential, and now ISIS – recently the Pakistani Army warned ISIS is planning a wave of attacks on churches and Christians.
Along with the normal persecution – blasphemy charge threats, particularly against Christians who are successful and not behaving in ways fitting their ‘dhimmi’ designation, job discrimination, police bribe-taking and torture, sexual assaults, kidnap and forced conversions – Christians face a government who officially has a quota of jobs reserved for minorities, but in practice restricts them to the ‘traditional’ sanitation jobs, sometimes advertising them as ‘non-Muslim’. There have been many incidents of mobs attacking Christian areas, burning homes and trying to lynch Christians.
In the aftermath of the recent double suicide bombing of two Lahore churches, a few Christians rioted, and a handful of activists seized two terrorist gunmen who had been part of the attack and beat and burnt them alive. The Pakistani media and government said the victims were ‘innocent Muslims’ and incited hatred against Christians. Reports claim the police were beating up any man with a cross in their car, raiding Christian homes and sexually attacking the women.
The media and government hadn’t reacted that way when an innocent Christian couple were similarly beaten and burnt alive in a village a few months before, nor when the same was done to a Christian teenage boy in Lahore shortly after the bombings.
The British Pakistani Christian Association (BCPA) is doing as much as they can to help, as funds permit. Currently they are helping look after the orphans of the couple who were burned alive, as well as the family of two sisters who have been gang-raped. They are also helping Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in Thailand. They are campaigning to change the Home Office’s official policy statement that Christians in Pakistan are not persecuted, but merely ‘discriminated against’. This not only affects Christians seeking asylum in the UK, but elsewhere, as other organisations, such as the UNHCR in Thailand, use it as a basis for not prioritising Christian’s claims.
BPCA invites you to sign their petition and also write to your MP or the Home Office.