The first six months of 2020 proved to be another challenging time for Christians in Pakistan. Despite lofty claims made by the PTI-led government, the country’s Christian community continued to suffer discrimination, intolerance, and instances of outright persecution.
International Christian Concern (ICC) documented at least 80 incidents of persecution against Pakistan’s Christian population. This included instances of discrimination, sexual assaults, abductions, forced conversions, forced marriages, blasphemy accusations, and murder.
In March 2020, Pakistan entered into a national lockdown to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This lockdown dramatically affected the country’s poor and marginalized communities, including Christians. Jobs were lost, and food supplies dwindled as reports of infections and deaths escalated.
To date, ICC has documented at least 12 incidents in which Christians were denied food aid distributed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Karachi, Christians and Hindus were refused access to food aid by the staff of Saylani Welfare International Trust. In a village in the Kasur district, more than 100 Christian families were excluded from food aid distribution. ICC also documented five other instances in which dozens of families were denied food aid because “Masih,” a Christian surname, appeared in their national identity cards.
Christians and other religious minorities were also pressured into converting to Islam to gain access to food aid. Dawat-e-Islami, an Islamic TV channel in Pakistan, claimed an Islamic organization converted non-Muslims to Islam using COVID-19 food aid. A Muslim cleric on the channel brought up an example of a man who converted to Islam in exchange for aid and encouraged others to follow this practice.
Despite the national lockdown, sanitation workers, such as street sweepers and sewer workers, were required to continue to work with little to no safety equipment. Christians make up 80% to 90% of Pakistan’s sanitation workforce due to discriminatory hiring practices, and this led to many Pakistani Christians being exposed to unsafe work environments.
In the first six months of 2020, a Pakistani Christian was accused of blasphemy and arrested. In June 2020, Anwar Masih from Lahore was accused of committing blasphemy against Islam by his daughter.
According to local reports, Masih’s daughter married a Muslim man in secret and converted to Islam. When Masih found out about the marriage and conversion, he became upset and began shouting at his daughter. The daughter filmed this event and submitted it as evidence of her father committing blasphemy under section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Sexual assaults, forced conversions to Islam, and forced marriages also continued to affect Pakistan’s Christian community in the first six months of 2020. ICC documented at least 14 instances where Christian women, girls, and a boy were affected.
On April 11, a 7-year-old Christian girl named Nadia, from Talwandi village, located in the Kasur district of Pakistan’s Punjab province, was kidnapped and assaulted by a Muslim man. According to local reports, the Christian girl was recovered, and the assailant was taken into custody.
Nadia was discovered to be missing at 7 p.m. when her father Boota Masih returned home. Immediately, Masih and other neighbors began to search for Nadia.
Ghulam Sabir, a Muslim resident of Talwandi, heard a cry coming from a nearby wheat field. There, Sabir found Nadia, who had been beaten and sexually assaulted, and her assailant, Muhammad Shoaib. Shoaib tried to escape, but he was captured, taken into custody, and formally arrested by local police (FIR # 299/20).
In addition to the 80 incidents documented by ICC, one positive development was noted in January 2020. The Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Lahore acquitted and ordered the release of 42 Christians accused of participating in the deadly riots that followed the bombing of two churches in March 2015. The verdict was reached after settlements were agreed with the families of two Muslim men who were wrongfully killed by the rioters.
According to the Open Doors USA World Watch List, Pakistan is ranked fifth on the list of top 50 countries where Christians are persecuted for their faith. Unfortunately, the intolerance, discrimination, and outright persecution documented by ICC in the first six months of 2020 only support this ranking of Pakistan as among the worst persecutors of Christians in the world.