Voice of the Persecuted interviews a Pakistani Christian who endured extreme persecution now trying to survive as an asylum seeker in Thailand.
Asking for a true account of the reality of life for Christians in Pakistan, Sunny Gill, a well-known photo-journalist, explains the cause of extreme persecution against them and why it been a never ending battle. He hopes this interview will serve as a message to Western Christians and nations, as plea to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a dire warning to Pakistani Christians seeking to come to Thailand for asylum.
My name is Pakistani Christian.
Due to serious threats against my life, I was forced to leave Pakistan and move to Thailand. Upon arrival, I put in a request at UNHCR Bangkok for asylum.
In Pakistan, we are considered second class citizens simply because of our Christian religious beliefs. We have always been discriminated against by Muslims. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s the truth.
Our story starts when we are born into a Christian family. Often, our parents carefully choose our name in a way which will not become a problem for us in the future. Names such as JOHN, JAMES, THOMAS etc. are easily recognized by Muslims as Christian or Churaa, which means sanitation worker. Due to the unpleasant nature of the job, it is considered a lowly position by Muslims and normally done by minorities, mainly Christians. With a Christian name, the potential for persecution is much greater.
When we go to school, our text books teach us that Hindus, Christians, and Jews can not be your brother. There are more than 60 syllabus in Pakistani text books which spread hate in Muslims hearts for a non-Muslim. We are always an easy target for fundamental Muslims.
“If you were to list the ten worst situations in Pakistan, extremism would be #10, but discrimination would be #1!”
Pakistani Christians have always played an important role in fields such as education, medical and others, but still we continually face much discrimination.
It’s very sad that Muslim parents teach their children not to drink water from a Christian or Hindu’s home. Non-Muslims are kafirs (unbelievers, disbelievers, or infidels), so they are considered dirty. It’s not uncommon for them to keep different water glasses for non-Muslims, which I have witnessed. Not all Muslims do such things, there are many tolerant Muslims in Pakistan who are good people. Often, they have received their education from Christian institutions.
He highlights for us many incidents in Pakistan done by the local people including:
- In Shanti Nagar on February 6, 1997, thousands of Islamic protesters descended on the village with placards stating: “Kill the Christians because they are blasphemers towards the Holy Quran and Holy Prophet.” 785 houses were destroyed, four churches were burned, and 2,500 Christians forced to flee.
- The 2009 Gojra riots were a series of attacks targeting Christians in Gojra, a town in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Forty houses and a Church were set ablaze by a mob on August 1st. Most of the houses were burnt by young males who had their faces covered with veils. This resulted in the deaths of eight Christians, including four women and a child. The victims were all burnt alive. 18 others were injured. Televised footage showed burning houses and streets strewn with blackened furniture and people firing at each other from their rooftops.
- And on March 9th, 2013 a charged Muslim mob of over 3,000 common people attacked a Christian community in Lahore. They were not thugs or gang members, but local paperboys, store owners, family men –among their other identity: Muslim radicals. They attacked over 100 (according to some reports well over 150) homes destroying the entire community. An event that could well be seen by the international community as a genocidal attempt to eliminate Christianity from Pakistan.
Pakistani politicians have oftentimes blamed events on groups such as Mossad, or the CIA. They easily point fingers at others, because it’s very difficult to accept your own mistakes.
Why are school books giving the wrong impressions and spreading hatred? Why are schools telling them that Shia, Christians and others are kafir?
I received my education in a Christian school. Our teachers never taught us anything against Islam. Maybe they didn’t speak against it out of fear, but our religion is not one of hatred towards those of different beliefs. It is one of tolerance towards others.
Among countries with a Muslim majority, Pakistan has the strictest anti-blasphemy laws. The first purpose of those laws is to protect Islamic authority. By the constitution (Article 2), Islam is the state religion. Critics complain that Pakistan’s blasphemy law “is overwhelmingly being used to persecute religious minorities and settle personal vendettas,” but calls for change in the blasphemy laws have been strongly resisted by Islamic parties. source
Christian parents in Pakistan realize the extreme danger of the blasphemy law, which the penalty is often death. Christian children are taught from a very young age to not speak against Islam.
All Christians, in fact all minorities, in Pakistan have a fear of the blasphemy law, which is very easy for Muslims to impose on them as revenge for any reason such as personal vendettas.
The Blasphemy law is often misused in Pakistan. Numerous disputes have resulted in a false blasphemy charge against a minority.
Many have lost their lives because of this law. A large number are tortured and killed in police custody when arrested for a blasphemy charge. The police will then report they have committed suicide. Many are killed outside the courts when extremists wait for those exonerated to leave. They assassinate them in broad daylight, some even on the court house grounds.
Last year, the case of Rimsha Masih displayed all that is wrong with Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law. Rimsha, believed to have been between 11 and 13 years old, comes from an impoverished Christian family living near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. She suffers from Down Syndrome. Rimsha was accused of burning pages with Quranic [Koranic] passages. Police took her into custody on August 17, 2013. The entire Christian community was reportedly assaulted by an enraged mob who demanded that police turn her over to be killed.
Threats against the Christian community were also made. Almost 400 families were forced to flee to other parts of the capital. Later, a Muslim cleric with a known distaste for Christians was arrested for framing the girl to cause problems for the local Christians. Though he was arrested, he was never formally indicted. The witnesses withdrew and he was acquitted for lack of evidence. The girl’s own family had to go into hiding. After the charges against her were dropped, continued threats forced Rimsha and her family to leave Pakistan. They now reside in Canada and have been granted asylum.
Once an individual is accused of blasphemy, the stain never goes away. Unfortunately even if the accused is found not guilty, the risk of being killed by a radical is still a very grave threat.
All Christians whether educated, or uneducated are at risk of becoming victims of the blasphemy law. Those who speak against the injustice of Christians become targets of persecution. Lawyers, politicians, journalists and activists who highlight the human rights abuses of persecuted Christians will face serious threats to their life, many are killed.
Salman Taseer served as Governor of Punjab from 2008 until his assassination in early 2011. He was an outspoken critic of the Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. He also called for the pardon and release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman falsely accused of blasphemy. On January 4 2011, Taseer was shot 27 times by his own guard, Mumtaz Qadri, who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Afterwards, Muslims who considered him a hero began to call Qadari, ‘GHAZI’.
“Ghazi” is a title of honor for a Muslim who slaughters a non-Muslim for the cause of Islam. After the murder, more than 500 clerics voiced support for the crime. Qadari’s supporters tried blocking police attempting to bring him to the Anti-Terrorism Court, some even showered Qadari with rose petals.
October 1, 2011, Qadri was sentenced to death by a Pakistani Anti Terrorist court at Islamabad for murdering Taseer. Qadri was executed on February 29, 2016. His home became a shrine to ‘the faithful’, and thousands of supporters have marched in the streets, praising him as a heroic defender of Islam.
Video added as an article update
Asia Noreen Bibi, is a Christian mother of five who was charged with blasphemy in 2009. Her crime? After picking berries in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, Asia went to the well to get water for herself and Her Muslim co-workers. She drank some of the water then dipped the cup again to refill it. Seeing this, a Muslim women blamed her, as a Christian, for defiling the well causing it to become unclean and unfit for them to drink or touch. Asia said some heated words were exchanged, after which two of the Muslim women fabricated the blasphemy case against her. It is also claimed a few days later she was taken, beaten, forced to admit, ask for forgiveness then convert to Islam, she refused to convert. Bibi was then arrested, charged, and sentenced to death by hanging.
Bibi maintains her innocence stating she had great respect and honor for the Muslim Prophet and the Quran, but and never made the alleged blasphemous remarks. Her case has drawn international criticism and her death sentence has so far not been carried out. A Pakistani mullah has advertised a $10,000 reward for anyone who kills her. She remains in prison under solitary confinement and required to prepare her own food, both for security reasons. While this case has drawn widespread attention, it’s not an unfamiliar tale.
Gill also recalled, Shabaz Bhatti who was a Pakistani politician and elected member of the National Assembly. He was the first Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs from November 2008 until his assassination on March 2, 2011 in Islamabad. Bhatti, a Roman Catholic was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the only Christian in the Cabinet. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for his killing and called him a blasphemer of Muhammad.
“And there are hundreds of other examples.”
I became a victim of religious persecution which forced me to leave my family, job and homeland. He shared life is difficult in Thailand where he and his wife have applied for asylum. “Fear of immigration and the police is always on our head. Though Thailand kindly invited the UN to open its office here, they are not involved with the government of Thailand’s laws.” Thai authorities basically view them as ‘illegal immigrants’.
We are thankful to the Thailand government who issues us visas and grants entrance in their nation. However, we need a place to live until we are resettled by the UNHCR. As a humble request to them, I ask:
“Please ask your agencies to deal politely with the asylum seeker and refugees. We have already been through so many horrific trials. We are away from our families and burdened by great emotional distress.
His warning to Pakistani Christians seeking asylum
“Do not come to Bangkok! It’s not easy here to live and it’s very expensive. It’s also very sad to tell you that there are those claiming to be agents making false papers and selling them to innocent Christians. They will tell you that these false documents will help you in your case to the UNHCR. There are many agents in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi etc., don’t trust anyone! Please, listen! They will be putting you through hell!
Pakistani FIA is also taking lots of money from Christians who are coming to Bangkok. They are asking for a large amount of bribe from Christians. They say, “We know you going for asylum.” Pakistani Christians are giving it to them, or they don’t allow them to go from immigration check to the airplane. Please be warned!
A humble request to the UNHCR
Please provide ‘asylum seeker papers’ to all those seeking asylum nearer to their arrival in the country. Waiting a year for an interview after the six month wait for the paperwork is unbearably long. We are under continued fear of deportation. We don’t have job’s, we don’t haves visa’s, we don’t have enough money to eat even a good meal. I have even had to eliminate a meal each day. We can barely afford to eat twice a day due to financial problems. We appreciate and are grateful for the chance to be rescued from the terrorizing abuse in our nation. Please consider our plight to survive, now that we’ve come this far.
We are converted Christians. Our forefather were Hindus, Sikh, ect. Missionaries from Europe converted us. Now we are true believers in Jesus. Pakistani Christians don’t want to convert to Islam to save ourselves. We would give our life before denying JESUS without any doubts.
UPDATE July 2015:
The UNHCR Thailand office has postponed this persecuted Christian’s asylum interview date another 12 months. They’re money has run out and to get by, they are forced to ask others for support. They, like the many others in Thailand are desperate. Unable to legally work without asylum, threats of being arrested and thrown into detention centers has brought great stress and anxiety upon them. Many face extreme depression with the sense of complete loss of dignity.
PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS NEED YOUR PRAYERS! And pressure must be put on Pakistan to protect all of it’s citizens, regardless of stature, ethnicity, or religion.
Freedom of religion and freedom of speech should be a basic human right upheld in all nations. Americans can help by contacting their Senators and Congressmen about the misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Ask that future aid and other relations with Pakistan ought to be curtailed in the light of Pakistan’s steadfast refusal to accord Christians and other religious minorities basic human rights. Pakistan ought not receive any but the most urgent humanitarian aid until these totalitarian laws are repealed.
And please remember to pray for our brother in Thailand, as he desperately waits for asylum to be granted!
By Lois Kanalos
UPDATE: Sunny has been granted refugee status from the UNHCR. He and his family are still at risk of being detained by the Thai authorities and sent to the IDC as they do not recognize his UNHCR status. Please pray for them and for a timely resettlement to start a new life living freely in a different country.
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