Why was the British Pakistani Christian Association established?
BPCA was initiated after the massacre at Gojra in 2009.
A mob had been whipped up over a false claim of blasphemy, and they razed to the ground 200 Christian homes and two churches, with 9 people including the bride and groom shot dead at their wedding for allegedly using torn shreds of the Koran as confetti. A lack of media attention and many failures by the government of Pakistan illustrated a need for a voice for a suffering minority. Hence, initially to raise awareness of the situation of
Pakistani Christians and to campaign against the notorious blasphemy laws that have been a tool for discrimination and persecution, the British Pakistani Christian Association was formed. From time to time we also raised funds for victims of particular incidents, and over time that has become a greater and
greater part of our work. We were originally a not-for-profit NGO, and are now a registered charity.
Your organization does charity work to help those suffering from discrimination in Pakistan. Can you share a case where you were personally moved by the charity work you did?
There are so many examples but I will share a few. Qaisor Pervaiz was a voluntary security officer at one of the Lahore churches attacked in the twin church bomb attack of March 15th 2015. He rushed out to stop a bomber but his friend got there before him and started to grapple the man. Qaisor rushed in and held the man’s arms up to prevent him detonating, his friend was sandwiched between him and the bomber. A gunmen shot the bomber in the back setting off the charges in the incendiary device, Qaisor’s friend died, he was buffered from the impact by the proximity of his friend and suffered 85% burns and many broken bones. Despite the odds against
him Qaisor miraculously survived a 3 week coma in a hospitalwithout a special burns unit. We paid through the nose for his hospital treatment when Lahore General hospital threatened to switch of life support machines after 3 days. We have paid for ongoing treatment at home and for his skin grafting. Since then he has gone on to start his own rickshaw businessafter his employer fired him for non-attendance at work, we provided both his training in entrepreneurial skills and a start up business loan. This man has literally come back from the dead and regained his life, he now shares his testimony in churches across the countryand has encouraged the faith of many.
Sherish and Farzana
Sherish and Farzana were 14 and 16 respectively when they were kidnapped and raped at gunpointby five men, whilst they were using a field as a toilet to impoverished to afford plumbing at home. The girls underwent a brutal 14 hour rape and torture ordeal, during which they were slapped, beaten, spat upon and were urinated on before passing out. They were found the following morning left naked in the same field and their father and a friend grabbed blankets from their home to wrap the girls in, and then carried them home. BPCA paid for their legal
costs to pursue justice and built a toilet at their homeso the girls would not have to come in contact with the local Muslim boys who were taunting and threatening them with a repeat rape, unless they dropped
charges. The new found safety of the girls, prevented threats from local youths intended to make them drop all charges. So some youths intent on bringing terror on the family till they agreed to give up the legal battle fired gunshots at their home. BPCA then moved the family to a safe home and started to teach the girls English, Urdu, Maths and stitching. We found worthwhile employment for the adult males of the family and advised them we would protect them for a year. We also explained we would offer help towards them being able to fend for themselves in a new city location away from the persecution and threats they faced in their home village of Jaranwala. Sadly justice was thwarted when a key witness who was paid by the rapists families failed to appear at court. However, the employment we secured has now meant the family will be moving to a new rental accommodation which they are able to pay for on their own. The girls are soon to finish their stitching
course and we will help them start their own tailoring business. It is hoped with the sale of their previous home and through this new business they will soon own a small home in the city. The girls have undergone significant bible-based trauma counselling and it is believed they have shaken of the shackles of depression that at one point was visibly consuming them.
Shama and Shahzad
In November 2014 a married couple Shama who was 5 months pregnant and Shahzad both bonded Labourers (slaves), were brutally tortured and murdered by a mob of over 3000 Muslims, who had been told they had blasphemed. The couple had sought their freedom from slavery after Shama had been raped by the accountant of their master. When Shahzad approached the master for his release following the dishonouring of his wife, he was told to pay an outstanding debt of over £5000 or he and his family would be locked in a room to
prevent their escape. Of course, this amount was way beyond what the family could afford so they were locked up in a field storeroom. The accountant seized his chance he went to local mosques and told them a blasphemy had occurred, mosque imams preached hatred from tannoys resulting in the mob grabbing the couple from the store room, stripping them naked and gangraping Shama before Shahzad, the couple were then beaten and both their legs broken so they could not run away, tied to a tractor by their wrists and dragged across rough terrain before being burned alive in a brick kiln. Their children watched the attack and were themselves almost burnt alive in the kilns.
Young suleman (8years) was interviewed by Pakistan’s mediaand described the violence he saw. He disturbingly spoke of watching his parents twitching uncomfortably as they were burnt alive – suggesting they were still alive at that point. His words numbed the nation and caused politicians to promise reform.
Since the ordeal we have been protecting the children of Shama and Shahzad and their legal guardian a maternal grandfather. Even through a tumultuous
legal battle for their custody that left the children confused and traumatized. The children are achieving good results at school, which was always a passion for their parents and it has been extremely satisfying seeing this dream fulfilled. Moreover the children have been provided with a full time nanny via the BPCA our way of ensuring the children have maternal influence in their lives. The children have bonded well with the nanny and of their own volition have started to call her mama, illustrating a positive bond.
What have you found is the best way to fight discrimination against Pakistani Christians from your base in the UK?
Now there’s a question. Really, what we are doing is dealing with the margins, because the problem is so strong and multi-faceted. We have a situation in Pakistan that kind of rolls along just under the category of genocide, in some ways. We do what so many other charities do; where we can, we offer support to victims in various ways – help fund lawyers, rescue bonded labourers (modern day slaves), help orphans whose parents have been killed, help victims of rape and so on. Donations received in the UK where the pound is always a strong currency, means even the smallest donation goes a long way in helping out in Pakistan. So much so that through the help of our donors we have purchased almost an acre of land in a rural brick kiln area, and will soon
start construction work towards a school for enslaved Children.
We have helped in getting Pakistani Christian asylum seekers ‘special status’ in Holland and Canada through a series of reports, extraordinary meetings at Dutch parliament and review of our submission to the ‘United Nation’s ‘Universal Periodic Review’ of Pakistan and a series of responses to the Canadian Immigration Review Board, which will hopefully make it easier for them to claim asylum there. We would like the same in
other Western nations and our latest report on Pakistan and Thailand has already resulted in triggering a review of the UK Home Office Policy towards Pakistani Christians and some evidence hearing sessions at UK Parliament presided over by the All Parliamentary Party Group on International Religious Freedom, for which 80% of representatives were invited by BPCA. The result of this has been a slightly improved Country information and Guidance for Pakistan that now allows almost automatic rights to asylum for Pakistani Christians who have converted to Christianity (apostates) and enhanced rights to Evangelical Christians. Moreover the guidance now has a larger set of examples of persecution that allows for better assessment of claims from wider Pak-Christian
In the UK, we prepare country expert reports for solicitors in cases where Christians have had their asylum claims rejected, with a pretty high success rate, thus stopping them being deported back to a place of danger. We also have raised the issue of textbooks in Pakistan’s education system which systematically denigrate Christians and other religious minorities – we are far from alone on that. Given the sizeable £225 million foreign aid budget provided by Britain to Pakistan to combat illiteracy, we believe such funds should be used more effectively as a lever for change on that issue, ensuring some funds are earmarked specifically towards levelling the
disparity of minority literacy rates that currently stand at 7% in juxtaposition to 32.5% of the Muslim majority would help, moreover the funds should be given under the proviso that Pakistan improves it’s shoddy human rights record. Ultimately, though, any substantive change will have to come from within Pakistan, which is difficult to foresee, given the hugely Islamicist slant of society as a whole. Perhaps if atrocities get so bad that the people as a whole turn against Islamicist ideology – not a hopeful thought.
Your organization helps Pakistani Christians find asylum in a number of countries. Why do you think it is so important Pakistani Christians are given asylum?
Compare the situation to, say, Muslim refugees from the ISIS conflict. Whether they are Shia or Sunni, they have Muslim nations of both persuasions they can or should immediately flee to, and can seek support from, particularly given that the Gulf states are so rich.
Where can Christians go? In Pakistan’s case, the main borders are with Shia Iran and largely Sunni Afghanistan which is Taliban infested, plus a tense border with a Hindu India that is increasingly aping Pakistan in its treatment of minorities under a quite extreme Hindu nationalist government, in a nation that has been hostile to Pakistan from their mutual births in the late 40’s meaning that thousands of border strayers are imprisoned and tortured or accused of being spies . Aside from a tiny sliver of a border with Communist China, that’s it. None of them are remotely attractive options. So those that can get out, tend to go to Malaysia and Thailand or in a few cases Sri Lanka, countries where dependency on tourism for GDP has created easy travel visa protocol. However when they arrive they soon realise they are not welcome. They are not well treated and conditions are horrifically bad for visa overstayers even with official UNHCR asylum/refugee status , particularly Thailand. None of these nations have ratified UN conventions for asylum and will indiscriminately arrest overstayers.
Furthermore employment is illegal for asylum seekers – ensuring survival without aid is impossible.
There are those who try to get to the West, but that is not easy. For instance, to even claim asylum in the UK, you have to first get here by some pretext, then claim asylum, which is far from guaranteed. We have
quite often had claims from Pakistani pastors that their persecutors are getting asylum or residence in the west, but the victims can’t. In the West, we often have controversial programs of positive discrimination, whereby governments seek to redress imbalances in the treatment of certain segments of the population. Well, like a good many groups dealing with Christians from Muslim countries, we hear stories of the way Christian refugees
are discriminated against, even in the actual process at the UN, or at Western nation’s embassies (or even, at a policy level, such as the Obama administrations welcoming of Sunni Syrian refugees, but deportation of Christian Syrians back to Syria). Such stories are very hard to prove, but not at all incredible. Or witness last year when Christians were tossed off a boat in the Mediterranean sea by other Muslim refugees / immigrants.
Christians have less choice in where to go – Muslims can head for other Muslim nations and the West, but although some Christians can for instance get to Gulf states to work in the labour force, mostly Muslim nations are naturally not a reasonable option. Thus we need positive discrimination from the West. There are material advantages – much less of a security risk, less time and money spent on security screening, less concern for
terror infiltration. Not only that but Christians from Pakistan and other Muslim nations will, despite cultural differences, share common values with Western societies, or at least what remains of the Judaeo-Christian culture, such as tolerance and freedom of religion in a way that many (not all) Muslim refugees will not. Traditionally, Christian refugees have assimilated and blended in very well, causing much less social difficulties.
In addition, many of those who can get out of Pakistan are professionals with skills to contribute – doctors, nurses, teachers, and so on.
BCPA supporters have staged protests and vigils at the Pakistani Embassy in London and other locations. What do you hope to achieve with such actions?
We don’t do this as often as we used to in the early days. These protests functioned to raise awareness with the media and other Christians, to put the Pakistani state on notice that how they treat Christians is not unnoticed. More recently we have held one such vigil in Bradford to highlight the ongoing persecution of a Pakistani convert to Christianity in the UK – an occasion that was marked by even more persecution for the family.
Unfortunately. Speaking out can be dangerous even her in the UK!
If there is one thing you want readers to understand about the situation of Christians in Pakistan when they read this interview, what is it?
In the last few years, even with the rise of Isis and the activity of Boko Haram in Africa, Pakistan has, year on year, been rising up the charts of the worst nations to be a Christian. A few years ago, they were at 14, now they are at number 6. So that’s worse than Iran, worse than Sudan, about the same as Syria itself, where ISIS is massacring Christians. Syria is no 5, but if you look at the scorings behind the rankings, they were
equal. This would probably be because there are parts of Syria where Christians can be relatively safe, under the Assad regime, whereas Pakistani Christians face quite intense persecution in every part of the country. Afghanistan, where the Taliban are running rampant again is listed at no.4.
Pakistani Christians are an oppressed, and despised minority, treated as dirty – even their touch is deemed to contaminate food and water, and it is not unknown for there to be separate public drinking water for non-Muslims – some schools in Pakistan even go as far as having separate toilets.
A good analogy in some ways would be the situation of blacks in pre-60’s southern USA – if they press for their rights or stand up for themselves they are uppity ‘sweepers’ who should be taught a lesson and put in their place. Those lessons are brutal, and frequently fatal. The women are deeply vulnerable to rape, sexual assault and harassment and sex slavery. In just one village, in one month this year, 5 Christian women were kidnapped
and raped and forced to marry their attackers or put into the sex slave trade. The police won’t help, because the perpetrators will have certificates of conversion to Islam, and parents or family seeking police help in such cases are frequently beaten, told to convert to Islam or warned that blasphemy charges will be made against them if they persist – often all three.
Christians have been burned alive by mobs in the last couple of years. Formally they have freedom for worship, but it is not uncommon for there to be police guards, or indeed church members hiring AK47’s to stand guard outside services. What’s more, in several cases Christian leaders and Muslim Leaders have agreed and signed contracts, in which churches confirm that men and women will not be permitted to sit together during services, and that services will be held at times inoffensive to Muslims. Parishioners are also instructed not speak of Christ on the streets and churches do not use PA systems. In all cases where these contracts are signed meetings
have been presided over by the local police and Muslim delegates have significantly outnumbered Christian delegates.
Christian communities have been targeted with three bomb attacks in the last four years rendering hundreds dead. 90% of the one million bonded brick kiln labour workforce [slaves] in Pakistan are Christian. 700 Christian girls are kidnapped, raped and forced into Islamic marriage every year an estimate produced by Muslim NGO ‘Movement of Solidarity and Peace’ – though Christian NGOs believe the figure to be much higher. We could go
on, but quite simply it is hell for them out there.