Christians in Pakistan are struggling to survive barbaric persecution

(Global Christian Relief) — Pakistani Christians and other religious minorities face abductions, indentured servitude and state-sanctioned execution.

Supporters of a Pakistani Muslim religious group chant during a demonstration to condemn derogatory references to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, in Karachi, Pakistan, June 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

(Global Christian Relief) — On May 18, Babar Sandhu Masih, a Catholic, heard a commotion outside of his house in Lahore, Pakistan. Masih ran outside to investigate and found his neighbor beating Masih’s 18-year-old son and another Christian boy, about 14 years old. Their supposed crime? Disrespecting the Prophet Muhammad, an allegation the boys flatly denied. They were arrested by police and charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes, punishable by the death penalty.

Pakistan has long had some of the harshest blasphemy laws in the world, but they are getting worse. In addition to state-sanctioned execution, Pakistani Christians and other religious minorities face abductions, indentured servitude and all manner of discrimination. The laws are rampantly exploited to systematically oppress Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and anyone who doesn’t follow the teachings of Islam. It’s time for the U.S. and the global community to stand up and hold Pakistan’s prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, and his oppressive government accountable for these clearly unjust actions.

According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s Freedom of Religion or Belief Victims List, more than 50 Pakistani Christians and religious minorities are currently detained or imprisoned on charges of blasphemy, with a number facing execution. To make matters worse, Sharif’s predecessor, Imran Khan, doubled down on the blasphemy laws, encouraging other Muslim-majority countries to band together and exploit trade boycotts to pressure Western countries to pass similar restrictions.

Sadly, accusations of blasphemy are just one of the many forms of persecution and injustice Christians face in Pakistan. Last fall, 200 Pakistani Christian families were left homeless in the capital, Islamabad, when, without warning, a government agency bulldozed their homes and church with their belongings still inside. Christians have endured other types of violence. Earlier this year, a Muslim landowner beat a Catholic farm laborer to death, claiming he stole oranges from his orchard. That killing followed the shooting death of a Pakistani Christian who tried to stop Muslims from stealing his guava crop.

Abductions of Christians are rampant. In 2019, 14-year-old Huma Younus was kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and coerced into marrying her abductor. Despite Huma’s family fighting to get her back, the Pakistani courts sided with the kidnapper. In 2022, Zarvia Pervaiz — just 12 years old — went missing after shopping with one of her abductors. She was reportedly forced to convert to Islam and marry one of the kidnappers. Although Zarvia was found and her abductors arrested, the police recommended filing no charges, so they were released. Even worse, the court ruled that Pervaiz had married out of her own free will.

Working conditions for many Christians in Pakistan are often deplorable. As a result of long embedded discriminatory practices that limit their prospects, about 80% of Pakistan’s sanitation workers are Christian and routinely exposed to a variety of unsafe and deadly work practices. In Pakistan’s brick kilns, many Christians are trapped in a cycle of indentured servitude that essentially equates to modern slavery. Already stricken by poverty, people take out loans or a cash advance to pay for needs like hospital fees. In return, they are told they can work in the kilns until they are able to repay the amount borrowed. But they never make as much as they need, and the debt spirals out of reach until entire families and future generations are in debt and working endlessly in the kilns, which are owned by influential politicians and their relatives.

The U.S. State Department has designated Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern for engaging in and tolerating “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” However, a presidential waiver is in place, releasing the administration from any obligation to act, so the designation rings hollow. Our administration should lift the waiver and then apply targeted sanctions of the Pakistani officials who are directly responsible for freedom violations.

David Curry. Courtesy photo

David Curry. Courtesy photo

Pakistani citizens— whether Christian, Hindu or any other religious minority — should have the right to practice their religion without fearing discrimination or violence. If we don’t hold Pakistan to account, who will?

(David Curry is president and CEO of Global Christian Relief, America’s leading watchdog organization focused on the plight of persecuted Christians worldwide. In addition to equipping the Western church to advocate and pray for the persecuted, GCR works in the most restrictive countries to protect and encourage Christians threatened by faith-based discrimination and violence. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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