By Hannah Chowdhry and Juliet Chowdhry
A French Magazine concerned about the treatment of Christians in Pakistan submitted some questions to us. You can read the actual article, which converts into several languages (click here). Our full response can be read below:
Christians are persecuted in Pakistan, like Hindus or Ahmadis… But are they proportionally more persecuted than other communities?
There is no simple answer to this question unfortunately. Figures from the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) recorded that 537 persons were accused under blasphemy laws during 1986-2015, 633 (47%) were Muslims, 494 were Ahmadi (37%), 187 were Christian (14%) and 21 were Hindu (2%). Christians at the time made up 1.6% of Pakistan’s and Ahmadi’s around 0.2%. The report did not distinguish between Shi’a and Sunni sects of Islam (click here).
It should be noted however that the Ahmadi community have been boycotting the census since 1974, to avoid persecution through identification. The UNHCR estimates that their are 4 Million Ahmadi in Pakistan a figure that would make them a larger minority than Christians (click here). At this point both minorities were facing great tribulation that was disproportionate to their demographic population. It can also bee seen that over 50% of blasphemy allegations were being laid against minorities.
Recent data from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) indicates that an anomaly occurred during 2020 where 199 people were charged in one year of which 75% were Muslim, mostly Shi‘as (70%), followed by Ahmadis (20%), Sunnis (5%), Christians (3.5%), Hindus (1 per cent). The Ahmadis still rate higher than Christians, but both percentages have dropped significantly. I presume that a lack of contact with Christians due to a fear they were dirty and more likely to contract COVID-19 (a known Muslim perception), and a belief that COVID-19 was a punishment for ritually impure minorities resulted in these lower figures. The figures also reflect the tensions between the Shi’a and larger majority Sunni sect (click here).
What can be seen is that both the Ahmadi and Christian communities in Pakistan are targeted with Blasphemy laws by mainstream Muslims at a rate higher then their percentage of the population. Taking these figures into account it would also seem that the Ahmadi faith is more targeted than Christians. However, figures of extra-judicial killings indicate that Christians are similarly targeted. The ICJ reports states that at least 78 people have bene killed in blasphemy-based extra-judicial killings. Within that number are 42 Muslims, 23 Christians, 9 Ahmadis, 2 Hindus and 2 whose religion could not be ascertained. Of the 42 Muslims killed several were also converts to Christianity. Here we see that a Christian accused of blasphemy is significantly more likely to be killed than prosecuted, when compared to all faiths. That said, the Ahmadi people in Pakistan suffer the ignominy of having two laws 298A and 298B that specifically outlaws them being able to call themselves Muslims or referring to Islamic practices as their own. The second amendment of Pakistan’s constitution also alters the meaning of section 260 of the Pakistan’s constitution. This sharpens the description of what a Muslim is and states that Ahmadi believers will not be considered Muslims. Though this not a specific outlawing of the Ahmadi faith it is viewed as such by the west, In essence the 2nd amendment Section 298A and 298B, simply create the same disenfranchisement for Ahmadis as other Minorities in Pakistan, resulting in a near guarantee of asylum for Ahmadis in the west. A facilitation that does not cover Christians or other minorities escaping the persecution, discrimination and disenfranchisement they face in Pakistan.
Christians have faced several large scale mob attacks on Christian villages, such as Shanti Nagar (click here), Gojra (click here), Korian (click here), Sumbrial (click here), St Joseph’s colony (click here), Mardan (click here) and others. These are usually triggered by blasphemy allegations but not always, the attack on a school and Church in Mardan for instance was triggered by Pastor Terry’s threat’ to burn a Koran in the US. The number and scale of these attacks on Christians is more frequent and violent than experienced by other minorities in recent times. Ahmadis however, suffered a large number of deaths during the Lahore riots in 1953 (click here) and 1974 Anti-Ahmadiya Riots (click here).
Despite a larger demographic than Christians in Pakistan, Hindus seem to have a lot less attacks on their communities, though recently a temple was attacked. There are rare cases of course of Hindu’s being accused of blasphemy. This may be based on the fact that Hindu’s live in large enclaves (click here) and would seem more daunting to attack, they are more established as a community and less vulnerable as a consequence of better education and resources. Moreover the majority of Hindus in Pakistan live in the Sindh Province an area which is known to have less sectarian/religious violence than the Punjab, though the city of Karachi (which is where most Christians in the Sindh live) is an anomaly. In my opinion geographical location of Christians in and around large cities is one of the contributing factors of their persecution. Christians are more likely to interact with the majority Muslim population and this contributes to their persecution. Hindu’s and Muslim communities are more likely to segregate themselves from other faiths something which is mirrored in India (click here).
Christians have also faced a large number of terrorist attacks and the twin bomb attack in Peshawar 2012 (click here), Lahore Twin Church attack 2013 (click here), Easter day attack at Gulshan park 2015 (click here), and Quetta church bomb attack 2017 (click here) are some of the major ones in recent times. Though Hindus were killed in a bomb attack at Orazaki market in 2018 (click here), they were not the main target. The Ahmadi community was targeted in a twin mosque terrorist attack in 2010 however, (click here). The reason Christians are targeted by Islamist groups on more occasions, is believed to be linked to a perception that they are spies for the west and in retaliation for the war against terror. So you see Innocent Christians in Pakistan are more likely to be persecuted during times when the US, Britain and other Western nations are at war with Islamic nations.
Christians face more extreme discrimination/persecution because of their abject poverty (most converted from the lowest Hindu caste). Over 1 million Christians are enslaved in the brick kilns of Pakistan and a further 500,000 are in similar indentured labour contracts in the carpet weaving industry. An illiterate patriarch will have signed (with a thumbprint) a slavery contract trapping his children and future generations into brutal employment contracts. Normally this will be in exchange for a loan to pay medical fees or for a child’s wedding. Enslaved families will be beaten, paid pittance, and forced to work excessive hours. Children above the age of 13 will be expected to join parents as part of the workforce. Worse still women are often raped by the landlord or his management team, while the men work.
Even more galling is the estimated 700 Christians girls abducted, raped and forced into Islamic Marriage. The more wealthy and educated Ahmadi community does not often report such issues, though the report written by the Movement of solidarity and Peace in 2010, does suggest 300 Hindu girls face the same fate (click here). Certain mosques in Pakistan are known to preach that there is a special place on heaven for Muslim men who expand the Ummah (Muslim people) in this way. Police ignore families that report these crimes and despite knew protective laws and an increase in the age of consent for marriage, courts still use Sharia law principles in deciding cases brough to court and sanction illegal forced marriages. Though BACA was the first group to free a woman from such a marriage (click here) most legal battles are lost. Even when an abducted girl is found by police she will not be returned to her family. Instead she is sent to a Women’s refuge centre that is meant to be impartial but is corruptible. Muslim rapists or their friends gain access to these protective centres and threaten to kill the girl and her family unless she states she willingly married the Muslim man (click here).
Christian children are bullied in school and even killed for their faith (click here). This prevents Christian families sending them to school which perpetuates levels of illiteracy. Many Christian families cannot afford schooling with a large number of Christians working as sweepers and cleaners. Provincial and Federal Government adverts for employment often print employment notices for sweepers and cleaners for which only minorities may apply. They state that this is a positive discrimination process to ensure illiterate Christians are employed. It also contributes figures to enhance their 5% minority recruitment quota for government employment agreed with western nations to gain foreign aid. In recent years these adverts have been declaring these cleaner posts for minority candidates, though inevitably only Christians are recruited – there is a deep hatred for Christians (click here).
Provincial Curriculum text books caricature and demonize Christians and other minorities. Attempts were made to improve these after an initial United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report in 2013. However a USCIRF report in 2016 established that the revised versions removed 50% of the defamatory text, reintroduced 50% and added new text which contributed at least the same levels of slurs (click here). Christianity is the most attacked faith within these textbooks which contribute significantly to the pariah status of Christians.
Are the Pakistani authorities more tolerant than society towards Christians? If so, is it for diplomatic reasons?
Pakistani Authorities differ in their approach to Pakistani Christians. Though the judicial system is meant to be independent with their decisions, inevitably lower courts succumb to pressure exerted by extremist groups and convict Christians for blasphemy, even when the evidence is obviously in favour of acquittal. In some cases this is due to fear and it is not unknown for judges to be killed for freeing Christians (click here).
It is not just when pressure is applied that injustice is served. Lower court and high court judges have their own biases and can convict due to a detestation of ritually impure Christians. Worse still judges often postpone hearing dates at a whim or prejudicially, which means prisoners can be detained in prison for years even before conviction. Asia Bibi remained in jail for just over 9 years awaiting an appeal that was unnecessarily delayed for many years (click here). Currently Zafar Bhatti has become the longest serving blasphemy prisoner in Pakistan with a duration of over 10 years (click here).
Similar prejudice can also occur through investigations led by police. Worse still corruption is rife and murderers and rapists can buy their freedom through underhand means.
Worse still, When Christians are murdered or our young girls are kidnapped and forced into Islamic marriages judges revert to Islamic law (Sharia law). Under Qisas and Diyat laws Muslims can buy their freedom and acquittal by paying a compromise bribe. Christians are often forced to accept a deal or face the threats and/or the destruction of their families.
The Government of Pakistan introduces statute laws to protect minorities, but these are often countered by Islamic law so end up being futile. Sharia law trumps statue law and the Federal Sharia courts have the right to review and judgement made in Pakistan (click here). It’s hard to believe the Government has any real passion to change the lot of minorities when you consider their failure to meet their 5% employment quota, one of the simplest things to achieve. Furthermore, the failure by Pakistan’s government to eradicate the growing slave economy which destroys the lives of millions of Christians is a poor indictment of their ratified commitment to UN Conventions for Human Rights. Especially as the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act (1992) has been in effect for decades.
During the recent deluge in Pakistan not one Christian enclave was reached by the Pak-Government or Muslim NGO’s (click here). Similar neglect was reported by Hindu enclaves (click here). If minorities cannot receive Government aid during a crises its quite indicative of how little they are valued.
Do you see an increase in persecution? If so, since when?
The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics report of the sixth Population and Housing Census-2017, indicates that Christians make up 1.27 per cent of Pakistan’s population of 207.68 million. This is a decline from the 1998 census figure of 1.59%. We believe much of the decrease is due to the number of Christians girls raped and forced into Islamic marriage (click here).
Many others have fled and thousands are seeking asylum in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, these are mainly Christians who escaped from attacks on their cities such as Gojra or Shanti Nagar or people who have fled allegations of blasphemy before being charged and imprisoned. If they did not flee thousands more would have been arrested for blasphemy and left to rot in Pakistani prisons.
The main wave of persecution began in the 70’s and 80’s when Saudi funding led to the formation of an increasing number of intolerant mosques and madrassas. Madrassa education proliferates despite US and UK funding for holistic educational reform. It is still the largest form of educational provider in Pakistan, especially in rural areas. Education in Madrassas are even more vitriolic of minorities and Christians are considered anathema.
The recent four successive elected governments was heralded as a new era for Pakistan. The previous pattern where Pakistan’s military overthrew elected civilian governments is often blamed for the weak democratic system. Their totalitarian regimes have been accused of limiting democracy. However though the last military coup d’état was led by General Musharraf on 12th October 1999, the lack of one has not stopped interference from army chiefs – though they deny this.. Either way, whoever was in power hardline religious groups have always had a strong political influence in the country. No better example exist then when extremist group Tehreek-e-lebbaik brought the country to a standstill, demanding the killing of an innocent woman, Asia Bibi accused of blasphemy (click here).
Its hard to summarize the Persecution Christians face in Pakistan, but we try to highlight some of the main issues.
Christians are bullied into accepting contracts with local Muslims to hold services at times suitable for Muslims, to not uses amplified music and to separate women and men in services (click here).
Ritually impure Christians are killed for drinking water used by Muslims (click here), or for having home near Muslim shrines (click here). It’s easier to kill Christians then prosecute them for blasphemy after all (click here).
Millions of Christians are locked in indentured labour contracts – new contracts are still being endorsed as legal (click here), others die in disgusting sewage, working with no health and safety procedures (click here).
Provincial governments continue a very bizarre ‘positive discrimination process’ that is acceptable to western nations who continue to provide foreign aid (click here).
Girls are raped by powerful Muslim men because they are immune from prosecution (click here).
Juliet Chowdhry, trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said:
“Christians are not the only minority persecuted in Pakistan.
“Far from it Hindus, Ahmadis, Sikhs and a whole raft of other minority faith groups are subjected to abject abuse, discrimination and persecution.
“We do not in anyway want to undermine such persecution.
“We have simply detailed reasons we believe being a Christian in Pakistan, is the toughest existence.
“By collating evidence from several well known and less well known reports, we put forward our case that Christians are the most despised demographic group in Pakistan.”
“The quality of life for Christians in Pakistan has reached it’s lowest ebb.
“Yet when Christians escape Pakistan and reach western nations their asylum applications have a less than 50% chance of gaining asylum.
“Though Western nations are fully aware that their money does not reach Christians and other minorities, they continue to plough foreign aid into Pakistan.
“The only way to guarantee funds reach minority communities, is to earmark a percentage for them.
“We continue to raise concern that such a caveat is still to manifest when negotiating with Pakistan.”
British Asian Christian Association is a charity that provides advocacy and aid to Christians in South Asia. We also write articles that inform on political and social matters that affect Christians and other groups across the globe. As a group we are very involved in interfaith harmony projects with intent to make this world a safer more connected place. We also provide disaster recovery assistance to people of all nationalities and diversities across the globe, where we can. If you would like to donate towards our work please do so (here).