Voice of the Persecuted interviewed a Pakistani Christian who has endured extreme persecution and now in Bangkok trying to survive as a Christian asylum seeker.
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 the extreme persecution against them and why it seems to be a never ending battle. He hopes this interview will serve as a message to Western Christians and nations, a plea to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a dire warning to Pakistani Christians seeking to leave the nation 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 always 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. 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 names which Muslims easily recognize as Christian or (CHURAA which means SANITARY 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.
He told us 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 etc., but still we continually face much discrimination.
It’s very sad how 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. I have seen some people keep different water glasses for non-Muslims. Not all Muslims are like this, there are many good and liberal minded Muslims in Pakistan. Often, they have received their education from Christian institutes.
He highlights for us many incidents in Pakistan done by the native people living in the area including:
- In the village of 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 Punjab province of Pakistan. Forty houses and a Church were set ablaze by a mob on August 1, 2009. Most of the houses were burnt by youths who had their faces covered with veils. These 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; 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 an entire community. An event that could well be seen by the international stage as a genocidal attempt to eliminate Christianity from Pakistan.
He said that Pakistani politicians blame these events on groups such as Mossad, or the CIA. And told us, “They easily point fingers at others, because it’s very difficult to accept your own mistakes.”
Why are school books giving the wrong education 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. They did not speak against it out of fear of Islam, but because our religion is not one of hatred towards those of different beliefs. It is one of tolerance towards others.
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 Christians, or other minorities to take revenge against them for any reason.
The Blasphemy law is often misused in Pakistan. Many 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 the exonerated to leave. They assassinate them in broad daylight, some even on the court house grounds.
Last year, as in 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 passages, not Quranic Pages. Police took her into custody on August 17, 2013. The whole Christian Community was reportedly assaulted. There was a mob demanding 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. It was later claimed that a Cleric with a known distaste for Christians had framed the girl to cause problems for the local Christians. Though he was arrested, the witnesses withdrew and he was acquitted for lack of evidence. The girl’s own family had to go into hiding. Though acquitted, continued threats forced Rimsha and her family to leave Pakistan. They are now 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.
Our persecuted brother continues on saying,
All Christians whether educated, or uneducated are at risk of becoming victims of the blasphemy law. And those who speak against the injustice of Christians become targets of persecution. Lawyers, journalists, NGO’s and civil society people who write for persecuted Christians will face serious threats to their life, many are killed.
Salman Taseer who served as Governor of Punjab from 2008 until his assassination in early 2011, was helping Asia Bibi, a Christian woman falsely accused of blasphemy. He was trying to help obtain her release from prison. He was killed 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. The assassin has been showered with rose petals, his home has became a shrine to the faithful, and thousands of supporters have marched in the streets, praising him as a heroic defender of Islam.
Asia Bibi, a 43-year-old Christian mother of five who was charged with blasphemy in 2009. Her crime? After picking berries in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, she drank water out of a local well. Seeing this, a Muslim women blamed her for defiling the well. A debate ensued about Jesus and Muhammad. Although it never turned violent, Bibi was arrested, charged, and sentenced to death by hanging. Since then her case has drawn much international criticism and her death sentence has so far not been carried out. Still, she remains in solitary confinement and a Pakistani mullah has advertised a $10,000 reward for anyone who kills her. While this case has drawn widespread attention, it’s not an unfamiliar tale.
He also recalls, 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.
He also claims,
“And there are hundreds of other examples.”
I have become a victim of religious persecution, forced to leave my homeland. In Bangkok where I have applied for asylum, life is very difficult here. 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. To the police, they are basically ‘illegal immigrants’.
We are thankful to the Thailand government who issues us visa’s and grants us 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, away from our families and are burdened by great emotional distress.
WARNING TO PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS SEEKING ASYLUM
Do not come to Bangkok! It’s not easy here to live and things are very expensive. It is 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 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 have 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 and Pakistani Christians who would give our life for 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
This interview may be shared, or reprinted with credit to Voice of the Persecuted
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