Many of you are aware of the ban imposed on me via the UK High Commissioner for Pakistan, yet few know the full details. I chose to refrain from divulging the full incident details until I had safely seen the return of my wife and children to the UK. Many of you may query why?.. and I promise to reveal the full facts as we proceed with this posting.
The incident first started after my wife and I decided to take a trip back to Pakistan to see her family, she is Lahore born and had not returned for 2 years, due to the work I have been undertaking for the BPCA and the heightened threat in recent years. Prior to that we had been travelling to Pakistan annually.
Whilst completing her documents the first applications were rejected as the forms on the web were not current, these subsequently were re-completed with newer forms.
Wanting to be sure about the application process, my wife took the opportunity to approach some High Commission staff at a meeting with the Interior Minister, I had been invited to in my capacity as Chairman of the BPCA. They offered her assistance before submitting the application and confirmed a date and time for her to come to the High Commission in a few days time.
In the meanwhile I published my story about the insouciance to tackle minority concerns exhibited by the Interior Minister and must have ruffled some feathers, as when my wife arrived with me at the allotted time and date we were told no-one was around to help.
I was a little frustrated with this but the officers agreed another date and time for assistance to complete the forms. Lo and behold in error the Officers had scheduled the second meeting on "Pakistan Day" a National holiday at which they could not possibly help, as they were busy eating halwa puree, cake and other niceties. We noted no Christians were present and I opted to write a story about the paucity of minority representation and the lack of desire to hold a 1 minute silence to the recently lost Federal Minsiter Shahbaz Bhatti Shaheed.
If you thought my article on the Interior Minister pulled their nose out of joint you would have been shocked at the cold treatment I was getting from High Commission staff from here on. I have always stated that I am not out to make friends, nevertheless, I find it a real blessing when friends are created as a consequence of my work with the BPCA. First and foremost however, the BPCA has been created to raise a voice for the voiceless minorities of Pakistan.
Five ensuing trips to the High Commission drew little assistance and problems such as dual parent authorisation of our children's applications, a photo that was older than 6 months old and queues too long to allow service in time for that days Visa's actions prevented success. One particularly grating and shambolic delay was caused by a Visa officer confirming that we would be able to submit our eldest daughters Visa application without a full birth certificate(using the briefer copy), as long as we paid the full cost for a visa rather than applying for a discounted visa under the provisions set for Pakistani Passport holders (My wife's). After submitting the documents we were later told this could not be done. If it was not a defined process such a scheme should not have been offered. To me it seemed as if any possible hurdle was being erected to prevent my visa and my family would suffer as a consequence. Despite the fact that the application for my visa was correct and that two of my other children had fully complete applications by our 3rd visit, all visa applications were communally assessed?
On the 4th visit I held a snap protest after hearing that another brother was accused under Pakistan's controversial Blasphemy Law, this action seemed to grate the High Commission staff. We are legally obliged to hold any protest we want in this country, however, the police prefer prior notice as it prevents a breach of the peace - we need permission to use a megaphone. I chanted on my own whilst given verbal abuse by many Muslims who could not understand why I was so impassioned about Christian persecution, when their brothers were suffering attacks from Americans? I tried to explain that one wrong does not justify another and tried to explain that Pakistans Christians were not complicit in the actions of America - to no avail.
I had by now taken 5 days of work and was rather fatigued so I asked my wife to attend the last session to get the Visa's once we knew all was complete. The High Commission staff now decided to play their final card. They informed me that I would have to have an interview with Juliet in my presence confirming that my children were allowed to leave the country. I found this a rather contrived process as the people who were interviewing me were the same that had seen me with Juliet 5 times during the week? The General Secretary and an applications officer were well aware of my attendance and support for the VISA applications. They and other officers including the Communities Officer, had promised me that the application would be a smooth process and requested that I inform them if I had any problems on several occasions?
Disappointed and discombobulated as I was, I agreed to attend an interview with Juliet and the General Secretary. A time had been set for 12:00 and on our arrival at 11:30 I informed them of our arrival. We waited in a queue to be seen and at 13:30 they then advised me that the meeting had been moved to 15:00 without any apology or reason. I had programmed another meeting for that time and was fuming that more of my time was being squandered unnecessarily. They had been holding my passport and those belonging to my family for several days now. Moreover, information such as letters from the owners of property inviting us to attend, which they had requested and had caused delay to our applications, proved to be worthless and whimsical. My application had been fine from the outset and yet they had chosen to delay return of my documents with the appropriate visa approval.
I asked the lady at the counter for a reason for the additional delay, she stated that the decision had come from the High Commissioner. I suggested that I provide a letter of confirmation which could be left with my wife which the officer categorically refused. I did not want to waste another day at the High Commission so agreed to stay. At 14:30 I asked if they could check if Mr Zecharia would be on time for 15:00. she called his office and stated their would be no guarantee. By now I felt as if I was being played as a chump. I asked the counter server if I was being treated this way due the work I was undertaking for the BPCA. She just smiled back at me other officers were sniggering at this point. My applications had been discussed with a much wider number of visa staff than was usual -a multitude had been involved in the process for some unknown reason. We had been passed from pillar to post in a visible attempt to prolong the process.
At the end of my tether I shouted out stop persecuting me for being a Pakistani Christian. I just wanted my visa and I stormed out shouting how fortunate it was to be a British Pakistani Christian and promised not to stop fighting for the freedom of my brethren.
The Security officers outside the entrance to the High Commission accosted me and asked me what was wrong, as I explained one of them pushed me back into the foyer of the High Commission, whilst the other incessantly punched me to the face, which unbalanced me. I was dragged to a corner inside the High Commission and the heavy door was shut locking me in and causing a real dread. I prayed as I was being sprayed with punches and God gave me the strength to push the two security Officer's away. The officer dealing the blows, seemed to suddenly cower and I warned him that if he decided to use his fists again that I would retaliate - this was more bravado then any real threat. I am very slight of frame and have not had a fight since I was 11 years old or younger...
I took advantage of the "temporary stay of execution" and called the local police informing them that I was being held against my wishes and had been assaulted. In the meanwhile a diplomat came in telling me he too had call the police for an alleged assault on him (he was not even in the room), the lady from the counter also arrived by now and accused me of punching her in the eye, she showed a bruise that had been covered in make-up and was rather old looking (probably the result of the usual domestic bullying in families originating from Pakistan). Unless I was Green Lantern or Mr Fantastic I cannot perceive how I could have punched her through the reinforced glass counter screen, moreover she arrived at the scene of my attack well after the blows had terminated?
The police arrived my wife and I told my part of the story, the High Commission gave their side of the story. Two further High Commission employees gave their testimonies regarding the incident and I was bemused to hear that I was to be arrested under charges of assault. Much due to the large number of witnesses. My wife heard a private conversation between the diplomat and a colleague. What he said would translate as; "If he keeps on with this campaigning we will deal with him" I assumed these were words spoken in anger when my wife first informed me and were not a deeper threat to my very existence.
The police refused to place me in cuffs despite significant clamour from high commission staff. They had already decided that I was harmless and were not going to put me through the ignominy of such loss of freedom. Moreover, they informed me that they would pursue for CCTV footage for the incident in an attempt to prove my innocence or guilt as they could see the High Commission was well equipped.
I was put in a cell but was treated exceptionally well. Police provided me with a blanket and a newspaper and the cell was rather comfortable. I prayed for God's intervention and after 2 hours I was set free as the High Commission dropped charges, probably through lack of evidence due to a reluctance to provide the very video footage that would incriminate them. I did not immediately press charges as I wanted to drop the affair as I still wished to meet my in-laws in Pakistan.
The next day I met with the General Secretary for the High Commissioner Nafees Zecharia who informed me that my wife and children could go to Pakistan, however that I was to be banned indefinitely.
As upset as I was with this decision I did not press charges against the Security officer until a further 3 days and only when my back started paining and I felt my health had been compromised. I asked for these charges to be dropped after the ISI (Pakistan's Secret Police) visit to my wife at her parental home
The ISI interviewed my wife for two days, mainly focusing on me and my life here in the UK. Today an Imam and two ISI officer's have returned to her parents home and I have grave concerns for their safety.
I never envisaged that my work with the BPCA would have such ramifications and cannot believe the duplicity shown by the Pakistani government in interviewing my wife's father, an innocent man in his 60's, who has kept a life free of trouble. I ask for Christians to pray for a ceasing of the recent attempts at thwarting justice and a stopping of the intimidatory actions utilised by the ISI.