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Persecuted Christian’s message to the West and the UNHCR

Pakistan-refugee
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.

discriminationducksWhen 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.

Pakistan-gunman-roof

  • 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.

Pakistan-Christian-woman

  • 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. Pakistan-persecuted

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.

Pakistan-blaphemy-protests

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.

Salmaan_Taseer-001

Salmaan Taseer

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.

Shahbaz Bhatti

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

christians-in-pakistan-unhcrPlease 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.

Pakistan-Christiancross

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.

This interview may be shared, or reprinted with credit to Voice of the Persecuted

Voice of the Persecuted is helping to relieve Pakistani Christians in Thailand. We cannot continue the work without your generous support. Help us reach life saving goals by joining us in the mission for persecuted Pakistani Christians.

If you would like your gift to be used specifically for those suffering in Thailand, please add Pakistani Christians in Thailand to the note section on the donation page.

In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.

HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED

Everyday, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and further His Kingdom! As you greatly bless others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!

 

Pakistani Christian Photo Journalist/Activist, Sunny Gill Forced Into Hiding By Radical Islamists

PAKISTAN: Sunny Gill, a talented Pakistani Photo Journalist has often been highlighted by multiple media outlets. If you have read articles pertaining to Christians in Pakistan, you most likely have seen his work.

Sunny-Gill1

Sunny Gill

Since 2009 he has worked with international and national press agencies. Gill has filmed documentaries covering the horrific attack on the Christian town of Gojra in Pakistan, the 2010 and 2011 floods in Pakistan, a documentary on the necessity of education for Christians in Pakistan and helped an Italian journalist in making a documentary about persecuted Christians of Pakistan.

He is also a correspondent for UCA NEWS, including serving as a volunteer with weekly Christian Voice Newspaper which is published from Karachi Diocese Pakistan. Gill worked for Gawahi television, a Christian television channel from 2010 until 2012 as a Host/Photographer.

This gifted young, photo journalist has been a powerful activist for Pakistani Christians, standing up for those taken advantage of, assaulted and oppressed in the Christian faith. He has held positions with organizations such as the Pakistan Christian Congress (Youth leader), All Pakistan Christian League-one of the largest Christian political parties in Pakistan and NGO’S like World Vision in progress, LTN Canada, including others. Boldly, this young man has been a voice for persecuted Christians, while others have remained silent.

Sunny Gill, Reporter

Sunny Gill, Reporter

Due to his work, he has often been threaten. He shared with VOP,

“It’s common for journalists to receive threats in a country like Pakistan. Due to many threats, I left my city and again in 2012 had to move out of my house to relocate. I never expected that someone could become so vengeful that they would stop me and point a gun at me. I was blessed and believe prayer is what saved me from injury and spared my life. Thankfully, a police squad was coming down the road and the attackers quickly sped away on their motorcycles.”

Sunny explained to Voice of the Persecuted that this was not the first time he has escaped a threatening incident. This time he finds himself in the same hornet’s nest of the many he was called to assist in the past. On the sound advice of those in his circles, Sunny Gill has been asked to stop his protests for the faithful and go into hiding. They believe his situation at this point is dire and to continue this work may mean the loss of his life. For now he is at a safe place, but has no where else to turn and is looking for help. Though he is an accomplished photographer and cameraman, is now unable to find work and worried how he will support his wife and himself. He also fears for his family and consequences they may face.

Photo by Sunny Gill

Photo by Sunny Gill

It is devastating how a vibrant young Christian with the ability to have a future in a good career and the desire to help others, has been attacked to the point of poverty by a group with a radical agenda. They mean to silence him and to stomp out Christianity, while they treat Christians as less than human. Too many times, this is the price and heartbreaking story of the courageous who will stand up against those who would abuse the innocent and helpless. For those who can not speak for themselves and the rights of all who are destitute. (Proverbs 31:8)

Also, many turn their abandonedbacks on these strong witnesses for Christ, leaving them to fend for themselves. We have become poor examples of our early first century Christian family. They hardly went hungry, because the rest shared all they had with each other.

We must keep this young brother and his family in our prayers. Pray that they will stay safe under the Lord’s protection and Mr. Gill will find the help he needs for daily survival.
Protest of the Christian persecution experienced by the Joseph Colony where an entire village was set on fire by a large Muslim mob. -Photo by Sunny Gill

Protest of the Christian persecution experienced by the Joseph Colony where an entire village was set on fire by a large Muslim mob. -Photo property of Sunny Gill (used with permission)

Christians fear more persecution following church attack

stopviolence* As government eyes talks with Taliban, critics say PM’s peace initiative ‘doomed to fail’

* Militants give a clear message that they want to continue the fight

LAHORE: Symbols of Christianity are scattered around Lahore, a legacy of British missionary zeal in Pakistan’s second-biggest city. But this coda to colonial times was jerked into a more violent present at the weekend, with the murder of at least 85 churchgoers in a Taliban suicide attack in the northern city of Peshawar, Financial Times reported.

For Pakistan’s tiny Christian minority, which represents about 2 per cent of the predominantly Muslim population of 190 million, its religion means access to schools such as St Anthony’s, which provide a stepping stone to top universities in the UK and US for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

But the community, like other legacy groups sprinkled across the world, feels its days are numbered. Sajan Masih – whose name means follower of the Messiah, or Christian – is among those who laments “the dying future for Christians in Pakistan”.

Sitting cross-legged on a pavement across the road from the “Zamzama” or Kim’s Gun in central Lahore, Masih points out the Christian schools and churches, as well as the cannon that features in Rudyard Kipling’s writings on life in colonial India.

For the municipal caretaker and father of seven, Sunday’s Taliban suicide attack, which, in addition to the deaths, injured more than 100 shortly after the main weekly mass, marks a continuation of persecution and a tale that will soon be forgotten. “No one cares about Christians in Pakistan,” he shrugs.

Yet the latest violence has shocked many Pakistanis who remember life before the upsurge in militancy.

Sunday’s attack came just two weeks after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif presided over a gathering of leaders of the country’s main political parties in the presence of General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the army chief, to discuss his government’s policies on countering the militants.

The event ended with a controversial announcement giving a green light for Sharif’s regime to open fresh peace talks with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the main umbrella organisation representing the Taliban.

Since that announcement, the killing of Major General Sanaullah Niazi, a senior army commander, in a Taliban bomb, and Sunday’s attack in Peshawar, have delivered a clear message from the Taliban – that they want to continue the fight.

The situation has revived bitter memories of previous bloody attacks by the Taliban and aligned groups on members of the Shia Muslim community, Pakistan’s second-largest grouping after the majority Sunni Muslims.

Western diplomats say part of the Taliban’s determination to intensify the fight is driven by a growing confidence ahead of the planned withdrawal of US-led western troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year.

“In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Taliban believe, they are increasingly set to win the fight. Why should they stop [the fight] now,” said one western diplomat in Islamabad. “These people [Taliban] are now increasingly looking at victory.”

Some critics say that Nawaz Sharif’s peace initiative is doomed to fail, while others warn he risks a dangerous resurgence in militancy if he closes the door on negotiations.

“You can’t close any one option. In this kind of conflict involving a guerrilla type of warfare, winning the battle is not easy,” says Masood Sharif Khattak, former head of Pakistan’s intelligence bureau, the main civilian counter intelligence agency.

Yet drawing a line under the conflict is about more than a peace settlement with the Taliban, analysts say. There are also controversial laws such as prosecutions for blasphemy against Islam, which in August 2012 resulted in the arrest of a Christian teenage girl.

She was later released after the judge found that the evidence against her had been fabricated. But her family subsequently sought asylum in Canada, fearing that they would be attacked in Pakistan.

In March this year, hundreds of Christian residents fled their homes in one of the poorer districts of Lahore following a mass attack by Muslim zealots seeking revenge over another blasphemy case.

“The law of blasphemy has often been used in Pakistan to target Christians,” said Samuel Masih, a Christian priest in Lahore. “Irrespective of where the Taliban negotiations will go, the question for me is simply, who will end the persecution of Christians in Pakistan? The blasphemy law is something that is an example of where changes must be made.”

For Mr Masih, the caretaker, Sunday’s attack in Peshawar has once again revived a tragic trend surrounding his community. “Our religion is under attack in a country where Christian missionaries once worked freely. Going to church was safe,” he says. “Now, life has become just too dangerous.”

Daily Times Monitor

30 Pakistani Christian struggling for UNHRC protection in Hong Kong

China

Hong Kong: April 30, 2013. (John Jacob) The Pakistan Christian Post reports in Hong Kong, last Saturday on the April 27th over five hundred torture claimants and asylum seekers joined a protest against the “zero percent acceptance”. This protest was organized under a non-profit, independent and private organization called “Vision First”.

These torture claimants told the interviewers, that many of them have been living here for more than 10 years, but the government wants them to go back to their countries where they can be persecuted. There are over 4000 who are hanging in the space for their future and waiting to put their first step on the land of freedom. Among these 4000 plus, there are 30 Pakistani Christians who were able to escape persecution and many were severely persecuted, falsely accused and threaten by the government and Muslim religious parties of Pakistan.

They are very much under pressure, stressed and worried what will happen to them if they will be removed back to Pakistan. What Christians are facing in Pakistan has been noticed and seen by the International Media and the United Nations, but have failed to stop injustice, false accusations of blasphemy, killing, kidnapping, gang raping, property snatching, threat calls, church attacks etc.

Once someone is target by Muslim groups it’s almost impossible for a person to escape. They can’t go to local law enforcement, because the police do not help them and normally give favor to the Muslims. The Muslim community thinks that Christians are second class citizens and infidels therefore do not have equal rights with them. This causes Christians to seek protection in other areas. It seems there is no such place which you can say is safe now.

The 30 Pakistani Christians are appealing to the government of Hong Kong to not be sent back, but to protect them. Pakistani Christians are peaceful, loyal and good citizens. This is also an appeal to the international community to write to the government of Hong Kong about the injustices that Christians are facing in Pakistan.

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