Displaying items by tag: Pakistan
Zafar Bhatti, Pakistan’s longest serving blasphemy convict (he has been in prison for ten years) had his life sentence increased to hanging in January 2022 - even though every piece of physical and electronic evidence suggests his innocence. His conviction was based on an unsubstantiated report made by police in the early stages of their investigation, when he was beaten into a false confession. He could be killed any day, and is being denied bail on health grounds despite substantial health concerns. Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws are evidently being used as a tool for discrimination against a Christian pastor. Staff gave him tablets for diabetes which caused pain and vomit with traces of blood. Doctors changed his medicine and the side-effects stopped. But now (14 May) he has a huge swelling in his left leg, from his feet to the top of his thigh. British Asian Christian Association (BACA) is supporting Zafar and his wife while they suffer the ignominy of this unfounded blasphemy conviction.
Health workers in Pakistan are marking children’s fingers as having had a polio vaccination, when in reality parents have refused the vaccine after believing conspiracy theories that they are harmful, blasphemous, or a plot to sterilise Muslims. This is the biggest challenge - to eradicate the crippling virus in one of its last haunts. Deteriorating security along the border is making the situation worse, as militants cross from Afghanistan - the only other country where polio is still circulating. After two years free of polio Pakistan has two poliovirus cases. They were also paralysed, raising further concerns that there may still be hundreds of cases in the region. On average, only one in 200 infections leads to paralysis. Bill Gates, who invests billions in the polio fight, said ‘it would be tragic if the disease made a comeback because it would spread back across the world and eventually you have what you had before 1988 - hundreds of thousands of paralysed children.’
In March the anti-Taliban group NRF started preparing a 2022 spring offensive against the Taliban government. Meanwhile tensions with Pakistan are high due to Pakistan security forces being targeted from Afghanistan. Islamabad has accused Kabul of doing little to stop this. Taliban-affiliated fighters (TTP and ISIL) have for years been operating along the porous border between the two countries, carrying out numerous attacks inside Pakistan. Now Pakistan’s air raids inside Afghanistan in response to the killing of its soldiers have raised tensions even higher. On 27 April the Taliban warned Islamabad of ‘consequences’ after nearly 50 people had been killed by Pakistani air raids in the border provinces. Pakistan has not confirmed being responsible for the raids, but Afghan residents have protested in the streets saying those killed were civilians. IS affiliates have also carried out attacks inside Afghanistan, posing a major security threat to Taliban rule.
Christian MP Fiona Bruce has handed a petition to home secretary Priti Patel, to raise continued concerns about a Pakistani Christian girl, Maira Shahbaz. At just 14 she was kidnapped, forced into marriage and converted; she escaped, only to be forced into hiding after her abductor accused her of apostasy. More than 12,000 people signed an Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) petition calling on Boris Johnson to grant asylum to Maira. ACN’s press officer John Pontifex said, ‘We are extremely delighted that Fiona Bruce has once again taken the trouble to reach out to Priti Patel and make this fresh appeal on behalf of Maira. I have been in touch with Maira almost every day, sometimes talking about her situation. She says to me: “I feel like I am in a prison, I can’t go out, I’m stuck, I don’t have enough to eat. What can you do to help me?”’
Zafar Bhatti, a Pakistani Christian, was convicted of ‘blasphemy’ in 2017 and sentenced to life in jail. He has fought to clear his name since then, but an appeal court sentenced him to death on 3 January. It not only upheld his conviction but also ruled that the proper sentence for ‘blasphemy against Muhammad’ was death, not life imprisonment. The ruling was based on a 1991 constitutional court decision. Zafar’s legal representatives will appeal against both the death penalty and the original conviction. He was convicted of ‘blasphemy’ for allegedly sending texts insulting Muhammad on a phone that was not registered in his name. He has always denied the allegations. He has suffered a heart attack in prison, and there are serious concerns for his deteriorating physical and mental health. Pray for God to restore his mental and physical health.
Two Christian nurses accused of blasphemy received bail and were released from prison in September. The decision was kept secret for almost two months to avoid backlash from Islamists. Mariam Lal and Nawish Arooj were granted bail by a sessions court in Faisalabad. Those charged with blasphemy in Pakistan usually languish in jail for years until the appeals process is exhausted. This is an unprecedented decision by any sessions court in a blasphemy case. Both women are currently in a safe location. They are very happy and relieved after their release, and are optimistic that the court will absolve them of the charge once the trial concludes. In Pakistan, false accusations of blasphemy are widespread and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. Accusations are highly inflammatory and have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests.
A convoy of 100+ Christians, including at least fifteen families, will leave Afghanistan to make a new life in Pakistan. It is not a hospitable country for Christians, but Afghanistan has become much worse with the Taliban in charge. Leaders of house churches have already received threatening letters from the Taliban, warning them that they know where they are and what they are doing. They are ‘on a list.’ The convoy is being led by a pastor who serves ten Afghan house churches. He was a Muslim until his life was turned around when someone shared the Gospel with him. The ages of the people in this convoy range from three months to 70 years. There are no buses, no trains running between Afghanistan and Pakistan: so this convoy will be taking, for lack of a better word, taxis. Ask God to give them strength and ask Him to frustrate the plans of any wanting to stop them.
Christian volunteer security guards are preparing to defend their churches in the run-up to Easter. With world-wide concern peaking after Palm Sunday’s suicide bomb in Indonesia, William Arif Khan and his team of fifteen security volunteers at Lahore’s Sacred Heart Cathedral stressed the need for extra vigilance. ‘For the past twelve years, I have been leading young men dedicated to support the police’s security guards stationed at the cathedral. We don't expect any rewards. All of them have dedicated their holiday to the Church. They have metal detectors. The police have allowed us to keep some licensed weapons on church premises; but only my deputy and I are armed with a pistol. Everybody is afraid of the terrorists. But we stand for the One who protects us all. Our faith tells us that God won't let us down. We perform our duties with complete passion and avoid negative thinking.’
A video from Pakistan shows Tabitha, a Christian nurse, who was beaten by fellow nurses and staff after accusations of blasphemy. The hospital where she worked issued an order that medical staff could not receive tips or deal with money from patients. Tabitha reminded a Muslim co-worker of the order when she saw she was collecting money from a patient. When Tabitha mentioned it to her superior, she was dragged off into a closet, tied and beaten up. Blasphemy accusations are highly inflammatory in Pakistan and often lead to mob violence and vigilante killings. The life of a blasphemer is much like the story The Scarlet Letter, but instead of wearing the letter A for adulterer, they walk through life with an invisible B for blasphemer. Police investigated and found the accusations to be false. However, the family remains in hiding due to threats associated with the accusations.
Acknowledging a need to restrain the abuse of ‘blasphemy’ laws and protect victims of false accusation, forced marriages to Muslims and forced conversions, the government has appointed a special assistant to the prime minister on religious harmony and Middle East. It is hoped this appointment will end the social structure where Christians are inferior to Muslims, confined to low-paid menial jobs such as street sweeping and latrine cleaning. A significant government statement affirmed that minorities living in Pakistan are ‘not second-class citizens’, and guarantees they will be protected under the rights and privileges enshrined in Pakistan’s constitution. Also, there is now a grievance helpline set up to report false accusations of ‘blasphemy’.