(Morning Star News) – Islamabad’s claim that “violations” of business visas contributed to the murder of two Chinese evangelists last month served key government purposes.
Lee Zing Yang (Li Xinheng is said to be the more accurate rendering), 24, and Meng Li Si (Meng Lisi), 26, were teaching Chinese to people in Pakistan, and, like any Christian, they also intended to share the gospel with people they met. Pakistani media dutifully broadcast the Interior Ministry spin on their apparent deaths, which accused the couple of “preaching” – suggesting that it violated terms of their business visas (it was not clear how), and wrongly implying that they were exhorting crowds of people to believe in Christ.
Reports state that Lee and Meng were paid 30,000 rupees (US$280) per month to teach Chinese to people in Pakistan at a language institute run by a South Korean, Juan Won Seo. The interior ministry released a statement asserting that security officials told Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in a June 12 meeting that, “Instead of engaging in any business activity, they went to Quetta and under the garb of learning [the] Urdu language from a Korean national …were actually engaged in preaching.”
The apparent error that they were there to learn Urdu aside, Khan’s announcement, which included a call to tighten processes for issuing business visas, sent the message that the pair’s kidnapping and apparent murder resulted from allegedly violating terms of their visas.
Lee and Meng were kidnapped off the streets of Quetta, capital of northwestern Pakistan’s Balochistan Province, on May 24. The Islamic State-affiliated news agency Amaq reported on June 8 that IS fighters had killed two Chinese teachers being held in Mastung, Balochistan, and IS released a video showing what are believed to be their bodies shot and bleeding.
Pakistan reportedly confirmed that the Chinese teachers had been killed, though it was unclear if officials had recovered their bodies.
The interior minister’s emphasis on the need to shore up the visa process, rather than improving security against Islamic extremists, served the government’s purpose of deflecting blame. It also sent a chilling message to foreign Christian evangelists. Previously the government had leaked news that two Korean Christians, 27-year-old Kown Ki Ye and 23-year-old Lee Ha Gyeong, had been expelled from a private hostel in Quetta after they were discovered “preaching Christianity” to students at Sardur Bahadur Khan Women’s University in Quetta.
“The government has deliberately leaked this information to create panic in the foreign missionary circles,” a source told Morning Star News.
The interior ministry’s spin on the murder of the Chinese pair also served its purpose in relations with China, which has pledged to invest $57 billion in infrastructure in Pakistan designed to link China with the Middle East and Europe. The capital for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPC) has put China in position to make demands of Pakistan that have raised criticism within Pakistan.
Besides helping to preserve the enormous CPC investment, the government’s statements on the killing of Lee and Meng were done deliberately to check China’s position in bilateral relations, a Foreign Affairs ministry contact told Morning Star News. Pakistan has since bolstered its position vis-a-visa China by boosting security for Chinese nationals.
Pakistan has also deported Juan Won Seo, accusing him of setting up a phony business as a cover for a church and “preaching activities.” A South Korean official has denied this claim. True or not, whether Seo broke any laws by telling others about Christ while operating a language institute in Pakistan remains unclear.
While Islam is the state religion of Pakistan, its constitution states that all citizens have the right to profess, practice, and propagate their religion, as well as the right to freedom of speech subject to “reasonable restrictions in the interest of the glory of Islam.”
What does seem certain is that Pakistani officials have violated international standards of religious freedom and free speech by deporting foreign evangelists and suggesting that those who exercise their faith are responsible for violence done to them.