Through the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), our European affiliate, we recently filed a written submission with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) expressing concern over Pakistan’s inability to protect its Christian citizens.
While the Pakistani government has taken steps to protect religious freedom, such as by establishing a National Commission for Minorities, the majority Muslim society continuously discriminates against and sometimes persecutes Christians, often in violent ways. As we stated in our report:
The common forms of persecution that Christian communities face include, inter alia, arrests and convictions under blasphemy laws, violence, rape, forced religious conversion, illegal occupation of land, murder, and assault. Christians have also been killed by mobs, attacked by suicide bombers, and had their houses burned to the ground.
For example, our Pakistan office has investigated instances of violence towards Christians, including the recent series of events that led to brutal death of Saleem Masih, a Christian man. Masih was beaten to death because he bathed with a Muslim man’s well water.
On 25 February 2020, twenty-five-year-old Saleem Masih, a labourer and a resident of Kasur was found severely injured and tied with chains to a tube-well in a field that belongs to Hajji Muhammad. . . . Saleem informed his family that Sher Dogar, Iqbal, Altaf, Jabbar, Razzaq, and Hajji Muhammad had beaten him with iron rods. There were serious injuries all over his body, including his genitals. The police, however, did not take any action. Only after the family gathered to protest at the village’s main road, did the police file an official complaint against the culprits.
Masih is one of many Christians who have been assaulted or killed. Christians are seen as second-class citizens and are often the targets of violence. One of our clients Waqar Masih was shot four times, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down because he sold Muhammad Shahbaz stale betel leaves.
In our report, we referenced multiple cases involving discrimination and other human rights abuses that are currently pending in the courts. Blasphemy laws are often used to prosecute and imprison Christians in Pakistan. These laws are a threat to religious freedom and are the reason approximately 80 Christians are currently imprisoned, at least half of which are facing life in prison or the death penalty.
As we detailed to the U.N.:
[W]e are representing a juvenile who was accused of uttering a blasphemous statement. His crime was simply to tell his co-worker (who started a religious conversation) that his father’s friend named Ali uses curse words when he hears anyone’s name that has Muhammad in it. Instead of filing a case against Ali (the friend of our client’s father), the coworkers accused our client for blaspheming. Even though the police investigated and found that our client had no intent to blaspheme and that he was simply telling his co-worker about his father’s friend, the police filed charges. Our client has spent more than two years in jail and his trial has not concluded yet.
The persecution does not stop with blasphemy laws. Christians in Pakistan also face other human rights abuses in the form of forced religious conversion, rape, and bonded labor, etc. According to the Movement for Solidarity and Peace (MSP), a human rights organization in Pakistan, about one thousand Christian and Hindu women and young girls are forced to convert and marry Muslim men each year.
Huma Younus, Mehwish, Farzana, Sehrish, Maria Sarfraz, and others, all between 11 to 16 years of age, were abducted and forced to marry Muslim men. Many of these cases involve coerced statements in courts by the young girls that they willingly left their families and married the men alleged to have abducted them. Many cases involve forged identity cards falsifying the girls’ ages.
We communicated to the UNHRC that it must address these continuous human rights abuses in Pakistan towards minority religions. The UNHRC must work with the government of Pakistan to take further steps in protecting minority religions and “make recommendations to improve the situation of the justice system that allows violence against religious minorities.”
As is evidenced from the cases presented, prosecutions under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and other forms of discrimination and persecution are still inhibiting Christians in Pakistan from living safely. It is imperative that the Human Rights Council take swift action and work with the government of Pakistan to ensure that Christians are able to safely reside within its borders. No one should have to live under the fear of being persecuted or prosecuted for holding a minority faith or expressing his or her religious views. This is why we respectfully request that this Council work with the government of Pakistan in order to protect the people who are vulnerable to prosecution under blasphemy laws or are persecuted by the majority for their faith.
The ACLJ and its affiliates will continue to advocate on behalf of victimized Christians all around the world as well as continue to fight on behalf of the Christians in Pakistan who have been assaulted, murdered, imprisoned, or forced into marriage or servitude.