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Thursday 31 May 2012

Update on 'Blasphemy' sermon case

Recently we reported on a case where an Islamic cleric is accusing a pastor of 'blasphemy' for quoting the Quran in a sermon.  An updated report says that tensions in the village are still high, and the pastor, Rev Irfan Gill, is receiving death threats.  The Muslim cleric has tried to attack him with help from a group of local Muslims.  The article also gives a little more detail about what was actually said in the sermon.

Apparently the pastor quoted verses from the Quran to explain 'errors and misunderstandings that underline today's interreligious violence'.  While tone and actual method is crucial, it would appear that

a) the pastor was trying to promote peace by examining causes of violence, and more pertinently
b) he was citing verses that traditional Muslims use to justify discrimination and attacks on Christians, and that it was the exposing of this truth that so angered the Muslim cleric.

Jesus said 'Blessed are the peacemakers....'  It seems the local Christian community has been trying to make peace under very trying circumstances, including the obligatory 'apology', but this does not appear to be working........

Pakistan's Web of Barbarity

Trailer for 'Sinner Among Saints' film

Any society is a complex web of interacting elements.  In Pakistan, the violence and barbarity comes from several elements.  The above trailer gives a brief taste, and points to a major problem - the 1962 constitution that made Pakistan an Islamic, rather than a secular state and the ensuing power of the Islamic religious political parties and movements (including, on a rather topical note, their tendency to intimidate judges and lawmakers).  

This article will briefly link several disparate stories to demonstrate this wicked web of barbarity.  First is a report from Pakistan's intelligence community about the strength of religious extremist groups.  Their survey showed that Islamic militant groups are far stronger in society than they were in the 80's and 90's when terrorist attacks were common.  They pose a grave threat to the state and society.  

This growing influence is almost certainly a major factor in the huge increase of attacks on religious minorities, and the fact that the authorities so often seem unwilling or unable to stand up for them.  For instance, see this article about the grave concerns of Hindu's in the Sindh province over the routine kidnap, rape and forced marriage and conversion of their girls and women, along with young men kidnapped for ransom (an example of Islamic groups forcing jizya, perhaps?).  Typically, the police refuse to investigate.  It has gotten so bad that representatives are saying that if the violence does not stop, Hindus will be forced to flee from Pakistan.

Another element in parts of the country is the Jirga system of village or tribal governance.  In a recent story a wedding dance in a village near the Afghan border in the North ended up with one such council condemning 6 of the guests to death.  A video of the wedding celebrations was made which was alleged to show violations of the tribes strict ban on gender mixing.  (Sources say that in fact there were separate clips of men and women at the celebration with none showing them mixing).  The 6 individuals were sentenced to death by their local village council.  According to custom, the men had to be executed first, and then the women.  However, the men managed to escape, but the women were left tied up to starve while the tribe tried to hunt down the men.  Apparently a local police chief has managed to get written undertakings that none of the 'criminals' will be harmed, for what that is worth.  Apparently the women are now (relatively) safe in their parents' homes.  Relatives say the group has been targeted due to jealousy, as the family are quite rich and well off, and that the video was engineered.  NGO's have noted how the Jirga system is used to systematically suppress women in Pakistan.  Sources here  and here

UN legal expert on Pakistan blasphemy cases

Gabriela Knaul - UN special rapporteur

A UN legal and human rights expert has highlighted a major factor in the endemic injustice in Pakistan over blasphemy cases.  Gabriela Knaul, from Brazil pointed out that many judges are pressured by threats and intimidation to declare people guilty even when there was no evidence to support such a verdict.  In addition, such threats often prevent defence lawyers from properly defending those accused of blasphemy (and this doesn't even take into account threats against witnesses).  

Gabriela Knaul made her comments after her 11 day trip to examine Pakistan's justice system in action.  She raised a number of other points, including the poor conditions (no lighting, electricity, water, sanitation) in many lower courts, the extremely low level of female judges, and the ambiguity inherent in a country having two separate supreme courts.  

She was especially critical of the way the blasphemy law is used to deprive women of their rights, and gender bias right from the police initial involvement up seriously discriminates against women and renders them less likely to receive justice.  She was also critical of parallel court systems, including the Federal Shariat Court (FST).  

Her visit was the first of it's kind for 13 years.  

For more, see herehere and for the Pakistan Christian Posts take - see here

Wednesday 30 May 2012

From darkness to light.... for one, for many?

Julie Aftab - survivor, example of God's ability to 'work out all things for good'

Julie Aftab was a fun loving child who had to leave school at age 12 to work 13 hour days to support her family.  She described it as the worst day of her life, as she dreamed of going to college.  At work, she always wore her cross.  Age 16, this offended someone (some sources also say that her refusal to be in a relationship was also a factor in what happened), and she was at work when one man burst in and threw acid at her from a distance, then another pulled her by the hair from behind and poured acid on her face and down her throat.  She lost teeth, her cheek and an eye in the attack.  She was rushed to hospital, but many refused to treat her for fear of retaliation by the perpetrators.  Those that were willing to treat her started skin grafts, some of them without anaesthetic.  

Typically, her attackers were never brought to justice and still walk free.  Her attacker falsely claimed that Julie had blasphemed against Islam to justify his actions and to put pressure on her - her life was still in danger  She barely escaped alive after a man tried to shoot her.  She moved her head just enough when her mum called out a warning, but she was hit with bullets in the head and the stomach

A sponsor arranged for her to go to the US, where she had to undergo 27 operations.  She spoke no English, but started to go to school, and later became the first person in her family to go to college.  She works in a store to support her family still.  She has also raised funds to build a safe house in Pakistan.  'Before I wanted to save peoples bodies' (as a doctor) she says, 'but now I want to save souls'.  

Her life is a picture of Jesus teaching on forgiveness, and a radiant beauty that is beyond skin deep, and she recently got engaged as well as being about to graduate, not from college, but from university!

For more sources, see here, here and here

Sunday 27 May 2012

Snooker quarrels and church sermons - result in blasphemy charges

Two more stories of blasphemy accusations or threats of the same - both with many typical features.

The first is in the town of Farooqabad, about 20 miles north-west of Lahore.  Local police arrested Sajid Inayat, 20, a Christian after allegations that he burned pages of the Quran in a box.  The charges came two days after a dispute with two Muslim boys over a snooker game, and the charge of willful desecration of the Quran carries a penalty of life-imprisonment.  Those falsely accusing him were the Muslim boys in the original incident.  As he went to work, they repeatedly accused him of setting fire to a box on a nearby pole, but he asked why he would do such a thing and walked on, saying they could do what they liked.  When he left, the boys raised a mob of Muslims and started a ruckus.  Several Christian families fled in fear of their lives, although local police and Muslim officials say none of the 20-25 Christian families in the area will be harmed.

BPCA publicly urges the police to deal quickly and dismiss this blatantly false case, as was the case in a recent incident near Gojra (see the last of the three stories on this page)


And in another case showing classically the situation in Pakistan for churches, local Christians were forced to apologize after a visiting preacher quoted from the Quran.  The pastor was invited by a local teacher to speak at a mass in a village called Data Zedka, which is near Sialkot, a town about 20 miles northeast of Gujranwala.
However a local Islamic cleric came and disrupted the meeting, abusing and threatening to kill the pastor after he quoted verses from the Quran.  He tried to physically attack the preacher himself, but the church members prevented him.  He called the police to the church, and in the meantime the pastor fled for his life.  The school teacher has apologized  to the Islamic cleric, who is still demanding that the pastor return and publicly apologize over the loud speaker for quoting the Quran, or else there will be 'consequences'.  This despite the Christian community sending women to the clerics wife and mother to apologize to try and avoid agitation by Muslims.  The cleric has said his blood boiled when the pastor used Quranic verses to support a Christian point of view - and would have killed him on the spot if he had managed to get a weapon.  The police have agreed to post a blasphemy case from the Cleric if the pastor doesn't come and apologize by the next day. It is unclear what has happened since then.  The police appear to be trying to calm things down, albeit by the normal method of pressuring Christians to apologize and defer to the Muslims, but the cleric accused the police of being 'followers of the American agenda of protecting the Christians'.


Injured hearts and bodies

Narang Mandi, property conflicts in village near this town

We have yet another story of influential Muslims stealing from the Christian community.  The Christians in the Bhondary Wala village near Narang Mandi (about 20 miles north-northeast of Lahore, are protesting the stealing of cemetery land by a retired army Colonel.  The Colonel, Farukh Alam, whose nephew is a Pakistan Muslim League politician, claimed that the cemetery land, which the Christians have owned since before even the founding of Pakistan, was in actual fact his.  He says it was 'taken back' in 1983, and he has recently discovered that it is his - despite failing to provide any proof whatsoever of his claims.  He has already built a boundary wall that has reduced the size of the land by over two thirds, and turning what he has stolen to agricultural use, and told the Christian community that they will need to make other provisions for burial.  He has threatened and abused Christians who tried to protect and save their graveyard.  The police did nothing about the complaint until a senior regional politician got involved.  The colonel claims that the Christians are accusing him after incitement by an Ahmahdi with a personal grudge, and that it is all a conspiracy against him.  

We also will summarise the story of a convert from Islam and the persecutions and deprivations he endured.  Karachi resident Muhammad Kamram, 34, was beaten mercilessly by thugs two years ago after telling his wife he had converted to Christianity.  He was troubled by the practices of his faith, the so-called 'moderate' Balrevi faction whose religious practice focuses on shrines to dead saints, and attracted by the satisfaction and love of Christian work colleagues.  He started going to church, but his family beat him when they found out.  He started going secretly, and managed to evade his family's watch.  He was baptised in 2009, and kept the fact secret from his ultra-conservative family, although he openly questioned Islam.  In 2010, his family pressured him very strongly to marry a Muslim woman in the hope of stopping his questions about their ancestral faith and he gave in to their pressure.  When he told her of his faith, she said she would stand by him, but the next day she told both families.  Both families started to threaten him with death every day.  Then he was badly beaten by thugs - he doesn't know which family sent them.  After 2 years, he is still in pain, with severe injuries to his pelvis and groin.  He fled the country, and his wife got a divorce.  He had to return to Pakistan a month later after his visa expired, and returned to Karachi some time later after he hoped things had calmed down.  In 2011 he married a Christian woman.  One day a cousin saw him and followed him home, and then told his family where he was and that he had a Christian wife.  His father came and demanded he leave his wife and return home, and raised a hue and cursed him when he refused.  The family fled the house and have had to move house repeatedly, whilst still receiving daily phone calls from the family threatening to kill his wife and unborn child if he did not return to Islam.  His family found out where his wife works and continue to harass them.  Because he cannot work, his wife must continue at her job, as she can't find better work.  He cannot get the funding for the hospital operations he needs.  A local politician has tried to raise funding, but nobody will take the risk because he is someone called Muhammed but whose religion is Christian.  In addition, Kamram is directly discriminated against the state because the functionality for changing religion on the new computerized ID cards is disabled for those whose religion is down as Muslim.  

On the issue of trauma due to persecution of Christians, BPCA came across this article containing observations and recommendations for pastoral support for Christians in Pakistan.  It also covers the inferiority complex, identity issues, sense of powerlessness, anxiety and fear the Christian community in Pakistan develops as a result.  It recommends a spiritual care plan for those going to Pakistan and talking to persecuted Christians

Speaking of the plight of minorities in Pakistan, yet another report has come out about the atrocious content of Pakistani educational textbooks.  The report is by the Catholic group National Commission for Justice and Peace.  They noticed that 1000's of minority students are forced to study Islam for fear of discrimination.  For instance, the populous state of Punjab, with relatively high percentages of minority population, has made the study of the Koran mandatory for all by a unanimous vote.  And in subjects like social studies, at least 20% of the material is Islamic in nature. Muslim students are given a bonus of 20 points for material reserved for those wanting to go deeper into Islam.  This despite the fact that the constitution Article 22 states that no person in education will be required to take religious instruction or take part in a religious ceremony if they concern a religion that is not their own.  

Christian family murdered

Okara Christian cemetery, a scene of earlier trouble

A husband and wife, sister in law and two children were murdered in Okara, Punjab province, about 70 km south west of Lahore.  The murders happened on the night of the 22nd May.  Police are investigating, but no arrests so far.  The manner of the families death - they had their throats slit - strongly suggests that this was martyrdom at the hands of Muslim extremists.  Source

Okara has been the scene of several incidents in the past, notably an attempt in June 2009 by Muslim authorities to demolish the Christian cemetery and turn it into recreational park land.  Source - about a third of the way down

Thursday 24 May 2012

Daily Jaang reports on Westminster Cathedral Night of Vigil!

Click on image to enlarge.

Killings and kidnappings near and far

Sindh Christian MPA Saleem Khokhar - 
received death threats for standing up for Hindu women

As we come up next month to the anniversary of the start of Asia Bibi's incarceration on false charges of blasphemy, we start by focusing on the place where it all started, her home village of Ittan Wali.  This article from nearly 18 months ago tells of the attitude among Bibi's fellow villagers, and provides a stark reminder of the environment in which her ordeal was born, and from which her family sought escape.  

Under the heading 'Villagers issue their own verdict' the article conveys the fury the villagers feel.  One old man says 'If she returned I would beat her to death with anything I could get my hands on', with a crowd of onlookers, young and old, agreeing she should die.  After her arrest, local clerics began announcing that 'Christians are dogs', and the village of Ittan Wali's' cleric Maqsood Ahmed Masoomi suggested that if anyone in the village commits blasphemy, they may not make it to the courtroom.

"They should be killed on the spot," he said. 

The BPCA has always acknowledged that other minorities and groups also suffer in Pakistan.  One Pakistani newspaper article asks the question 'How much killing is too much?'  We will refrain from the rather obvious answer, because the sentiment of the article is ours.  The article notes a number of killings of various sects over the last month or two, and continues 'The treatment of Pakistan’s minorities has never been good, but, in the last few years, things have gone from hostile to absolutely intolerant.'   It even goes so far as to say that the level of persecution against minorities in Pakistan is edging closer to the definition of genocide.  It notes that in one Pakistani province alone, an estimated 3000 Hindu girls have been kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam.  

It also cites an old but very pertinent case - that of Nazir Bhatti, editor of the Paksitani Christian Post, who after a 1997 peaceful protest that ended in murder and bloodshed perpetrated by the police, was targeted as an alleged ringleader, and in two hours had 21 serious charges falsely brought against him, including murder and blasphemy.  He had to flee the country.  

The same newspaper also carried an article concerning death threats against a Christian MPA (Member of a Pakistani Provincial Assembly).  Saleem Khursheed Khokhar, from the Sindh assembly, has been vocal in opposing the abduction and forced conversion of Hindu women and girls to Islam, in particular in the light of a recent case where Hindu women were kidnapped and forced to marry and convert according to their families.

The MPA Khokhar is concerned that the security guards he has been given are too few and haven't been vetted, considering they are Muslim - a pertinent point, given governer Taseers murder by one of his bodyguards over similar controversial areas.  He has been receiving death threats by text such as 'Only Muslims will be allowed to live peacefully in this country. No one else will be allowed to live here with dignity' and 'You should learn from the remarks of Chief Justice, and High Court, only Muslims are allowed to live here. You should leave the country or you would be responsible for what happens.'

Finally, like many of you, we have followed the case concerning the murder of British-Pakistani teenager 8 years ago.  Her parents have been put on trial for what prosecutors maintain is a case of honour (or better a shameful dishonour) killing - after her father drugged her to take her to Pakistan, which she drank bleach after fearing she was facing a forced marriage.  According to her sister, she was killed by suffocation for failing to follow her parents wishes over various matters, including boyfriends.  All we can say is, if a culture produces such fruit where they are in a minority, how much worse must it be (and as we know, is in fact) when they are in a majority in their home country against minority citizens. 

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Are Christians dirty..... well

We would like to draw attention to one aspect of the event concerning persecution of Christian women that we reported on here.  One of the witnesses was Thomsena Anjum who, with her family, fled from Pakistan to Britian in the face of threats.  As well as testifying from her own wide-ranging experience that 'These hate crimes towards Christian women are increasing and do not seem to end. These crimes are unreported and unpunished'.  She visited 100's of Christian families in Punjab over a decade or more.  She went on to comment on the fact that in many places Christian women are denied water after local Muslims claimed that wells would become 'unclean' if Christians touched them.  

In addition, Peter Jacob from Pakistan deals with the rape of Christian women - asserting that the number of attacks against women in Pakistan is four times than the cases that are reported, and that many sex crimes pass in silence.  


Mr Surjit Singh (aka "Makhan Singh") Indian National aged 76 years Unlawfully Detained in Pakistan for 36 years

 Mrs Parminder Kaur holding a photograph of her father Mr Surjit Singh aged 76 years who has spent the last 36 years (and continuing) in Kot Lakphat Prison in Lahore Pakistan.

Mr Surjit Singh (aka “Makhan Singh) is an Indian national aged 76 years who has spent the last 36 years of his life (and continuing) in Kot Lakphat Prison Lahore Pakistan following a dubious conviction in 1976 for “spying”. He was denied access to the Indian Consular or legal advice and representation at his trial and therefore did not have the benefit of a fair trial.  Mr Surjit Singh’s conviction is unsafe. Accesses to Mr Surjit Singh’s original prosecution and defence files have been ignored. 

Initially, Mr Surjit Singh was sentenced to death which was later commuted to life in imprisonment. In Pakistan a life sentence is equivalent to 25 years in prison.  This means that Mr Surjit Singh’s sentence should have been completed in 2004. Mr Surjit Singh has served 11 years (and continuing) above and beyond the tariff determined against him. He has been denied all contact with his family in India. The Pakistani authorities have refused Mr Surjit Singh’s family visas to visit him in prison throughout the duration of his incarceration. Mr Surjit Singh is unaware that his eldest passed away in tragic circumstances.

Mr Surjit Singh suffers from various undiagnosed and untreated health conditions which have been drawn to the attention of the International Red Cross who under the Geneva Convention can visit and attend to foreign nationals detained in foreign prisoners. Unfortunately, despite repeated requests I have yet to receive an acknowledgment let alone a response from the International Red Cross. I am aware that Mr Surjit Singh health conditions continue to remain untreated. Mr Surjit Singh is being wilfully denied medical treatment. This amounts to torture.
This case and other similar cases have been repeatedly referred to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and other international human rights organisations. Unfortunately they have failed to acknowledge or confirm whether that they will intervene in this case. It is of concern that the international human rights organisations appear to be selective as to which causes and countries they champion at the exclusion of cases like that of Mr Surjit Singh.

Mr Surjit Singh’s case was drawn to the attention of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office earlier this year.  The Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s response was that this case is a matter between governments of India and Pakistan. I beg to differ; this case and other cases of this type are essentially about abuses and breaches of human rights.  Our Government donates considerable amount of financial aid to Pakistan. This should be monitored and be subject to the government of Pakistan addressing its record in relation to human rights.
Mr Surjit Singh’s case came to my attention by his daughter Mrs Parminder Kaur who lives in Punjab, India. Evidence was gathered, collated and forwarded to Mr Awais Sheikh to annex to the petition he subsequently issued in the High Court Lahore:

Jas Uppal
Twitter: #freeourdad
17 Indian Nationals Sentenced to Death in the UAE:

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Blasphemy cases - the bad and the not quite so bad.... and more

Free at last? - Munir Masih and Ruqayya Bibi

Another case of blasphemy has been registered against one Sajid Masih.  There is no information on back story, but a Muslim filed a complaint against the Christian saying he burned pages of the Quran.  Typically, within a few hours, mobs of 1000's of Muslims surrounded the police station where the victim Sajid was held, demanding the police hand him over to them.

However there are some slightly better news on two other blasphemy cases.  In 2010, a Christian married couple with 6 children were sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly defiling the Koran and other associated blasphemy charges.  The couple, Munir Masih and wife Ruqayya Bibi, were originally charged in December 2008, after a row between their children and the children of a family whose driver made the false accusations a few days later.  The accusation was that Bibi had touched the Quran without ablutions, or alternatively that she had let her hair fall on an open Koran.  The couple recently won their appeal.  BPCA would like to thank Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi for seeing that justice was done, but we also note that this false accusation took 3 and a half years to be exposed and the victims exonerated.  This was not a simple miscarriage of justice case, but yet more evidence of the situation Christians must face in Pakistan where a row can lead to false imprisonment for years.  

And in another even better piece of news, a blasphemy accusation near Gojra that started as so many do, ended very differently to most such situations.  The story began with a spat between Asif Masih and Mohammed Boota.  Boota and accomplices roused some Muslims and burst into the house of Masih's family and pushed him and his father around, then made false accusations of blasphemy.  The police immediately arrested Masih.  
However - and it warms BPCA's heart to be able to report this given that so often we have to report terrible crimes on the part of Muslim landlords as well as religiously partisan condemnation of blasphemy victims - the rich local landlord Chaudhary Khalid Cheema made sure Masih could defend himself, saying 
'being Muslim is no reason to defend Muhammad Boota because his behaviour towards Asif Masih was repugnant.
I have no doubts that the young Christian is innocent. We are ashamed of what happened in Korian and Gojra in 2009, because no one has started an impartial investigation. . . . We will stand by the Christians for their rights, and will live together with equal respect and dignity'
At the trial, the entire (mostly Muslim) community attended and stood up for Masih before the judges.  Just over a week from the original arrest, Masih was released.  
Local sources are hoping this marks a turning point for the Christian community in the area after many incidents in the Gojra area.  

Praise God, and pray that long may this attitude continue and spread!

In memory of Pakistan's martyrs

We present the following article (lightly edited and slightly abridged) from Nazir Bhatti of the Pakistan Christian Congress.  
Martyr Feroz Masih

The forgotten Pakistani Christian Martyrs. By Nazir Bhatti

We are observing the 15th anniversary of Martyr Feroz Masih, who was killed by Karachi Police firing in front of Governor House on February 13, 1997, during a peaceful protest procession against a Muslim mob attack on a Christian village, Shanti Nagar in the Punjab province of Pakistan.  Amidst clouds of tear gas shelling and police firing on Christian protestors, hundreds were rendered unconscious, dozens were injured, whilst nine received bullet injuries and more than 1,000 were arrested. Feroz Masih was among those nine critical bullet wounded Christian who were rushed to JPMC Hospital where he died with his one hand fastened to his bed in a police hand cuff.

Feroz Masih was not any politician or Church leader or an activist of any foreign funded non- government organization, or any political party leader or any federal minister in government or any tool of the Pakistan establishment, but an honest Christian who had a passion for the oppressed Christian nationals in Pakistan and love for his fellow brothers who were victimized in village of Shanti Nagar - hundreds of miles away from his home in Karachi. Feroz Masih had never ever met any of the suffering Christians of Shanti Nagar, nor was he hoping for their votes to seek any public office in the national assembly or provincial assembly or any district council, but still he felt their pain and took to the streets on February 13, 1997, to ensure justice and basic equal democratic rights in Pakistan for which he sacrificed his life.

In the sub-continent of India, the word “Martyr” has a very particular definition. The courageous person who sacrifices his life for the values of religion or the rights of a community secures very unique respect and the honour of being a “Hero” in society, thus becoming part of history. The generations pay tributes to the sacrifices of “Martyrs” and celebrate their anniversaries to remember them.

Whenever, a nation is in crisis, their martyrs become a ray of hope and success to launch a new campaign to successfully resolve issues, but nations which forget their martyrs have always faced failure - as history records.

There is a line of Pakistani Christian martyrs who sacrificed their precious lives for the rights of millions of Christians in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Christians who faced police baton charges, tear gas shells, gunfire on the streets at their protests and rallies against the injustices of government, or who faced prison sentences after arrests during processions are “True Hero’s” - but those who faced persecution or victimization under controversial Islamic laws are also our “Hero”.

It is a black mark on our record that we have forgotten the Martyrdom of Bishop John Joseph, who was mysteriously murdered by secret agencies of Pakistan on May 6, 1998, in Sahewal city in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Martyr Bishop John Joseph was the Catholic Bishop of the Faisalabad Diocese who led rallies and participated in hunger strikes against the blasphemy laws as well as raising a voice for oppressed Pakistani Christians on International forums. There were gatherings and prayers on the anniversary of Martyr Bishop John Joseph organized by the Catholic Church of Pakistan and socio-political organizations funded by him up to the year 2002. Now years have passed and no organization has bothered to issue any press release on the anniversary of Bishop John Joseph’s martyrdom.

Nawaz Masih and James Masih were the first Christian Martyrs of modern Pakistan - they were killed by Police in Rawalpindi who opened fire on a peaceful protest procession of Christians protesting against the nationalization of missionary Schools, Hospitals and Colleges during the ZA Bhutto government in 1972. This protest procession went out from Gordon College Rawalpindi and marched towards Governor House to present a memorandum against the nationalization of Christian institutions.

Like Martyr Feroz Masih, Martyr Nawaz Masih and Martyr James Masih were also not Bishops or high profile Christian leaders but common laymen who had a love for the Christian people in Pakistan. The families of Nawaz Masih and James Masih were not supported by any Christian political groups or indeed the Bishops, who had been enjoying benefits of Christian institutions and living like feudal lords. It is very unfortunate that no Christian clergy or associations have ever celebrated or marked anniversary of these Martyrs.

There are Martyrs of Essa Nagri in Karachi, who laid down their lives defending Christian children and women when the Muslim land mafia attacked this, the largest Christian colony in the Sindh province of Pakistan. These two martyrs of Essa Nagri have graves in the Awami Church of this colony and people pay homage and offer prayers by their graves.

We must not forget, but instead honour those Christians who were killed by extremist Muslim groups on accusations of blasphemy with the name of “Martyrs”; they sacrificed their lives to ensure basic democratic rights through the political process and protested on the streets of Pakistan against a regime controlled by the Muslim majority.

Let us remember Tahir who was killed in Lahore jail awaiting trial on blasphemy charges, Bantu Masih who was stabbed to death in the lockup of Lahore police whilst held on blasphemy charges, Manzoor Masih who was gunned down in front of Lahore High Court when coming out after the court heard the case of blasphemy, and the Rashid Brothers who were murdered in Faisalabad Court House when they came to face blasphemy charges under police protection, along with other Christian victims of blasphemy accusations who were killed in jails or on the streets of our nation.

When we commemorate Pakistani Christian Martyrs, it is very important to remember the Martyrs of Gojra city in Punjab. In this horrible incident on August 1st, 2009, a Muslim mob attacked the Christian Town in Gojra city and burnt alive seven people - children, women and the elderly. It is also very sad to note that no Christian group, clergy or Christian parliamentarian have marked the anniversary of these Gojra Martyrs in 2011.

Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minority Minister, was assassinated on March 2, 2011, in our capital city Islamabad. The banned outfit Tehreek Talban Punjab claimed responsibility for killing Shahbaz Bhatti and warned of the same fate for anyone who comments on blasphemy law.  As a federal minority Minister Shahbaz Bhatti had announced plans to revise the blasphemy statutes to prevent its misuse against religious communities – plans which were disliked by Pakistan’s extremist Muslim groups.

So, let us pay homage to all our Christian Martyrs, and let us also keep remembering their sacrifices in the future to prove that we are not a dead but an alive nation, as well as to appeal to 20 million Pakistani Christians to not forget these Heroes”

Aunt of 13-year-old victim loses twins to miscarriage after beating.

A band of Muslims this month severely beat a pregnant Christian woman in Punjab’s Narowal district – causing her to lose female twins to miscarriage – in an effort pressure her family into dropping charges of raping her 13-year-old niece, the woman’s husband said.

Asher Masih of Dhamala village told Compass by phone that the men attacked his home on May 8.

“All three male members of our family, including my father, brother and myself, were out for work when Irfan Safdar and his accomplices trespassed into our house and started beating up my mother, sister-in-law and my wife, who was in her fifth month of pregnancy, mercilessly,” he said.

Masih’s elderly mother said she pleaded for the attackers to spare his wife, but they did not listen.

“They murdered our children, they raped our daughter,” she said. “We have nothing left with us.”

In a country where Muslim criminals believe police and courts will give little credence to the complaints of Christians, the family accuses three Muslims of gang-raping the girl at an outhouse on March 29.

“She had gone to a nearby field to use the toilet when she was forcibly taken away by three men later identified as Irfan Safdar and Shahid. Their third accomplice remains unidentified as yet,” Masih said. “At first we thought that she might have stopped at some neighbor’s house, but when she did not return after a long time, we set out to look for her.”

He said a villager informed the family that he had seen Safdar and two others taking the girl to an outhouse. The family rushed to the site, but Safdar and his accomplices fled, Masih said.

“We found [name withheld] inside the outhouse, raped and badly injured,” he said.

Masih said the family tried to register a First Information Report (FIR) with local police, but officers turned a deaf ear, as Safdar is the son of former police inspector Safdar Bajwa.

“They also refused to register [the victim’s] statement under Section 164, which is mandatory in such cases,” he said.

Police refused to file their complaint for more than a week, during which time the suspects repeatedly threatened the family, he said.

“They told us we were poor and weak and could not face them no matter how much we tried,” Masih said. “There are about four or five Christian families in the overwhelmingly Muslim village, but almost everyone is fed up with the Bajwa family because of their criminal activities.”

Safdar Bajwa first denied that his son was involved in the case, but when several Muslim villagers started visiting the police station with the victim’s family, the accused surrendered a servant identified as Shahid to police, saying he had raped the girl, Masih said.

“The police tried to give a clean sheet to Irfan in the initial investigation, because of his father’s influence, but then registered FIR No. 145/12 under Section 376 against three men, including Irfan, when the villagers insisted,” he said, adding that police still did not arrest Safdar. “In April, Irfan and his accomplices illegally grabbed a piece of land owned by us. They did this to pressure us into giving up the case, but we stood our ground. We are poor, but we chose not to compromise on our honor.”

Masih said the Muslim family used various tactics to compel the victim’s family to drop the charges, and when all efforts failed, they attacked their house.

After neighbors informed the men at work of the attack, they took the injured women to a hospital.

“The doctors tried to save the babies, but Nosheen had a miscarriage because of the severe injuries inflicted by the attackers,” he said, adding that his wife was still in a state of shock and grief.

Masih said that the family has registered case No. 184/12 against Irfan Safdar and nine others, but the suspects managed to get pre-arrest bails with the help of police.

“Their interim bails end on May 22, and we know they will be able to influence their way out of this case as well,” he said. ‘There is no justice for the poor and helpless in Pakistan, especially if you belong to a minority community.”

Thus far, he added, they have received no assistance from any government or Christian organization.

“We cannot leave the village, because we don’t have any other place or means to go,” he said. “The villagers are giving moral support to us, but we need help in facing this situation. In villages, it is the police that matter, and in this case, the entire police machinery is working against us.”

Saddar Station House Officer Sohail Tariq was unavailable for comment. 

Sunday 20 May 2012

Westminster Cathedral Night of vigil a spiritual success!

Archbishop Joseph Coutts read a homily to a captive audience

Bishop Michael Nazir Ali was invited to speak about the life of Shahbaz Bhatti and the ongoing persecution in Pakistan.

Wilson Chowdhry was asked to place a photo of Shahbaz Bhatti at alter below the main pulpit area.  As Wilson read a biblical passage Bishop Michaeal  Nazir Ali lit a candle for the slain Federal Minster.  Akmal Zahid from Nelson Asian Church led the Lords Prayer in Urdu.
Wilson Chowdhry led the ceremonial procession carrying the BPCA cross through the streets and into the Cathedral.  A reminder to us all that we are all required to carry our own crosses.  Vinny Masih seen behind Wilson asked a Bishop to pray over the cross so it is now officially blessed!

Images © Weenson Oo / Aid to the Church in Need.

A Night to Remember

By John Pontifex

THE plight of Christians persecuted for their faith was the focus of prayer, song and reflection at the first-ever Night of Witness held at Westminster Cathedral.

Bishops – both from the UK and overseas – led yesterday’s (Thursday, 17th May) event at which Christians from countries marked by persecution played central roles in raising awareness of ongoing acts of religious oppression.

Organised by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the Night of Witness began with more than 1,000 people filling Westminster Cathedral for a Mass highlighting the importance of religious freedom, celebrated by Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, chairman of the international affairs department of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

People leaving the service gathered on the cathedral piazza for an outdoor rally which began with Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster welcoming special guests Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, Pakistan, and Coptic Catholic Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt.
Among other senior clergy attending the event were Emeritus Archbishop Kevin McDonald of Southwark, Mgr Keith Newton, Ordinary of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod, Head of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the UK and Emeritus Anglican Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali.

During the rally, Dr Nazir-Ali gave a speech stressing the importance of religious freedom, comparing and contrasting problems in the UK with those in Egypt, Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere.
He said: “We are approaching a time in this country where we will have to struggle for fundamental freedoms for Christians to manifest our beliefs and maintain our Christian institutions.

“We will face this – we are already facing this – in this country and so the example of our brothers and sisters from elsewhere will I hope sustain us.”

With Catholic performance poet Sarah de Nordwall acting as MC, the outdoor event included performances by the West End Gospel Choir, Catholic pop group ooberfuse, singers Helen Munt and Hammad Baily and the Eliot Smith Dance Company.
Interspersed with the acts were a series of short videos about the persecuted Church produced by Aid to the Church in Need especially for the event.

The videos explored themes of persecution and its causes developed in ACN’s latest publication Christians and the Struggle for Religious Freedom which was launched at the event, complete with an introduction by leading UK media expert Dr Austen Ivereigh, co-founder of Catholic Voices.

The rally ended with a procession back into the cathedral fronted by a vast wooden cross with Pakistani Christians from Nelson in Lancashire and Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association.

Mr Chowdhry said: “The Night of Witness held at Westminster Cathedral was a great spiritual success.
“To be able to gather with our brothers and sisters from a number of different communities, which continue to experience hatred and persecution in their home copuntries, was an amazing experience and shows our solidarity for each other.”

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Lord Alton presides over debate on Persecution of Christian women in the world today

Lord Alton presided over a discussion on the "Persecution of Christian Women in the World today  at Committee Room 12 of the House of Commons on Tuesday, 15th May 2012 5.30pm.  At the event the The leading Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need launched their new report examining the importance of religious freedom and providing incident reports of recent acts of persecution including those targeting women.  Free copies of "Christians and the Struggle for Religious Freedom" were distributed to guests at the meeting. 

Asylum SeekerThomasina Anjum spoke of the persecution that she suffered whilst running an NGO in Pakistan. She described how many Christians in rural villages are required to drink form dirty canals as they are deemed untouchables who by drinking from wells will contaminate life sustaining water.   Thomesena and her husband have fled Pakistan to seek refuge in the UK following blasphemy allegations placed on them for their work in Pakistan.
Bishop Joannes Zakaria described in great detail the plight of Christian women in his native Egypt he provided first hand accounts that painted a bleak picture of the existing weak political structures since the Arab Risings.

Lord Alton has championed better human rights for minorities in Pakistan and is responsible for a number of informed reports on the dire situation many of them face.

Alan Craig and Baroness Cox two great supporters of the BPCA encouraged Wilson to continue his work. Keep watching out for these faces at our events as you are sure to see them around.

Archbishop  Joseph Coutts (residing in Karachi) of the Catholic Church in Pakistan spoke of the struggles of Pakistani Christians.  His vivid understanding of the plight of persecuted minorities illustrated why so often it has been the Catholic Church that have responded to the need to protect minorities in the homeland.

Wilson and Christian Member of Pakistan's National Assembly (MNA) Asiya Nasir spoke after the discussion.  Common ground was found in a passion to improve the quality of life for all in Pakistan, especially marginalised minorities 

Wilson Chowdhry and MP Andrew Stephenson were scheduled for a private meeting with Asiya Nasir, which Wilson had to decline due to a prior engagement.

Wilson Chowdhry a guest at the meeting attending on behest of Lord Alton and Baroness Berrige said; 

"This meeting was a chance for humanitarians to gain further insights into the plight of persecuted     women in Pakistan.  Evidently the life of a a women living in Pakistan is fraught with difficulty, however as a Christian or other minority this difficulty is compounded, diluting further the potential quality of life to an unacceptable level.  Britain's future foreign aid budget to Pakistan should be used to coerce humanitarian progress  in this area and to address wider discrimination."

Westminster Cathedral to host religious freedom rally

Wilson Chowdhry will be carrying the cross at the front of the procession at tomorrows night of vigil held at Westminster Cathedral tomorrow.  He will be leading the Pakistani delegation into Westminster Cathedral and will read from Scripture after a few words from Bishop Emeritus Michael Nazir Ali.  Come and join us...

At an upcoming "Night of Witness" event at Westminster Cathedral, leading Catholic bishops will call for action to protect religious freedom in countries where persecution threatens the survival of Christianity.

Stephen Anjum, a Pakistani who fled with his family to the United Kingdom, plans to attend the event. He has firsthand experience of persecution.
"People in the U.K. and elsewhere in the West are simply not aware of the scale of the problems that we face in my country," he told Aid to the Church in Need.

Extremists had alleged that Anjum's son had insulted Islam's Prophet Mohammed and they shot at Anjum's wife.

"We need major moral support so that people in my country can be safe from violence and intimidation," he said.

The May 17 event intends to help Christians like Anjum. The event will involve music, dance, video and prayer.

It will begin with a 5:30 p.m. Mass at the cathedral celebrated by Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton. He chairs the Department of International Affairs for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.

After Mass, in the cathedral piazza there will be a rally for religious freedom. Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster will welcome Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, Pakistan and Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt.

They and Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir Ali, an interfaith expert originally from Pakistan, will address attendees. Planning to attend the event is Archbishop emeritus of Southwark Kevin McDonald, chairman of the bishops' conference committee for relations with other religions.

"Night of Witness" performers include the Catholic pop group ooberfuse, singer Helen Munt, the West End Gospel Choir, Urdu-language singer and musician Hammad Baily, the Eliot Smith Dance Company, and Catholic performance poet Sarah de Nordwall, who is also the event's emcee.
The event will return to Westminster Cathedral for a prayer vigil for the suffering Church. Readings and music will commemorate the lives of those killed for their faith, including Pakistan religious freedom advocate Shahbaz Bhatti, Indian priest Fr. Mernard Digal and Fr. Ragheed Gami of Iraq.
At least 20 Christians of Pakistani origin now living in Lancashire will take part in the event, including Vincent Masih.

"People think persecution is happening a long way away and there is nothing they can do about it but that is not the case. We are going out of our way to be a sign of hope for those who suffer today," said Masih, whose family fled Pakistan in the 1960s.

On May 17 Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic pastoral charity, is launching a report "Christians and the Struggle for Religious Freedom" to draw attention to the importance of combating religious persecution. The report chronicles violent and intimidating acts in many of the countries that worst offend against religious freedom.

"Those Christians facing sustained violence, especially in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, show an extraordinary courage that should serve as an inspiration to those of us who do not face those dangers but are still called upon to give a witness to our faith," Bishop Lang said in the report's foreword.

"We are called to enter more deeply into solidarity with those who suffer for the Church and to do so through prayer, practical support and by raising our voices about this often-hidden crisis."

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Mr Bhavesh Kantilal Parmar Unlawfully Detained in Pakistan

                                                      Mr Bhavesh Kantilal Parmar

I am Sikh. I support the relentless humanitarian work undertaken by the British Pakistani Christian Association including their efforts to highlight and address the gross abuse of human rights in Pakistan.

I started the 'Free Sarabjit Singh Campaign'; please note . Mr Sarbjit Singh's case has resulted in other families of prisoners unlawfully detained in Pakistani prisons coming forward  and seeking help in the hope of securing the release and return of the relatives.

One such case is that of Mr Bhavesh Kantilal Parmar.

Facts of case:

Mr Bhavesh Kantilal Parmar and Indian national aged 32 from Mumbai is an architect by profession.

In 2005 Mr Parmar's father passed away following. Mr Parmar who is prone to depression and had difficulties in coming to terms with his father's death. It is my understanding that shortly after his father's death, Mr Bhavesh Parmar boarded a train to Amritsar in the north of India. It is unclear how Mr Parmar then managed to board the high security 'Samjhauta Express' train to Pakistan where he was detained for failing to provide documents and then ended up in Kot Lakphat Prison, Lahore in Pakistan where he continues to remain to date.

The Pakistani authorities have repeatedly failed to clarify the reason for Mr Parmar's arrest and or explain their failure to release to him. Accordingly Mr Parmar's detention is unlawful. Further there are concerns about the state of Mr Parmar's mental health which remains undiagnosed and untreated in prison. Under international law, this amounts to torture.

Mr Parmar's mother Mrs Hansa Parmar was formally informed that her son was in Kot Lakphat Prison in 2009 - some 4 years after his disappearance and without knowledge of what had happened to her son in the intervening period.

Action taken: I have reported the matter to the international human rights agencies, and invited both the Indian and Pakistan authorities to secure the release and return of Mr Parmar to his mother in India. There is no valid or justifiable grounds for his detention.
Further articles:


Wednesday 9 May 2012

WORLD SINDHI CONGRESS® Protest against persecution of minorities in Pakistan 6th May 2012

Protesters hold placards outside 10 Downing Street.

Wilson Chowdhry our Chairman was invited to speak at the World Sindhi protest against abduction, rape and forced marriage of Hindu girls, held on Sunday. This societal malaise is a perpetual fear for all minorities living in Pakistan this Sunday, often propogated by religious groups intent on proselytising.  Unfortunately the date corresponded with his 10th Wedding anniversary so he was unable to attend.  The BPCa full endorses this capaign and hopes to work with WSC and ISWO in the future.  It was good to see video's of Peter Tatchell supporting the group in challenging for an end to global persecution.  Here is their press release on the protest:

WSC and ISWO Requests the International Community to put pressure on Pakistani to guarantee the protection and safety of Sindhi Hindu girls in Pakistan
On 06th May 2012 World Sindhi Congress (WSC) and International Sindhi Women Organisation (ISWO) held a rally in front of British Prime Minster’s 10 Downing Street residence in London to protest against the forced conversion of Sindhi Hindu girls in Pakistan. In particularly the recent decision of Supreme  Court of Pakistan in the case of Rinkal Kumari.
In recent years, there  has been an increase, particularly in Sindh, of the abduction and forced conversion to Islam of Hindu girls.  Young Sindhi Hindu girls are being kidnapped, subjected to forced marriages with Muslim boys, and converted to Islam.
The rally was attended by a large number of British and International Human Rights organisations including Sindhis and Baloch. Rally was supported by Christian, Hindus, Ahmedis and other minority groups of Pakistan and other countries
The rally raised slogans against the state sponsored forced conversion of young Sindhi Hindu girls, new trial for Rinkal Kumari case and freedom of Rinkal, Lata and Aisha Kumari.  
The rally was addressed by Peter Thatachel from Thatachal Foundation, Michael Maseey from United Christian Forum, Ruby Akhtar of Christian Party, UK, Ravi Ladva, Barrister Sassui Abbas Laghari of ISWO,  Veena Bedi Hindu Cultural Society, Hidayat Bhutto Chairman WSC, Noordin Mengal Balochistan National Party, Lakhu Luhana Secretary General of WSC and Dr Rubina Shaikh, Chairwoman of ISWO and Vice chairperson of WSC.
The speakers said that Sindhi Hindu women who are our daughters and sisters are being used as weapon to terrorize and push out Sindhi Hindus from their own motherland. Hindu Sindhis the indigenous, the rightful people of Sindh are being subject to terror and systematic  state sponsored abuse through kidnapping and violence.  Young girls from Hindu faith and in some instant married Hindu wives are being kidnapped by state sponsored tugs and religious clerks who are involved in systematic harassment and kidnapping.
Speakers said that our sisters and daughters in Sindh need our support and help to counter act the fascist and violent state who each and every day busy destabilizing Sindhi people and Sindh. Sindh which through centuries beacon of secularism and tolerance today our indigenous people are being victimized in their own motherland and young girls are victim of this fascist state.
Speakers said that those tears, abuse and pain of our sisters and daughters will never be forgotten by true Sindhis and this coward state cannot divide Sindhis. We Sindhis will be more united than even before to protect our young daughters and sisters.
The rally condemned the so called Chief Justice of Supreme Court who against all the norms of justice showed his religious extremism and handed over innocent girls to their abductors. The rally requested the international community to support the Sindhi people’s struggle  against the religious fascists.  The rally also demanded that the case of Rinkal Kumari should be heard in an international court away from the prejudiced religious bigots to save the innocent life from continued violence.
At the end of the rally a delegation comprising of Dr Hidayat Bhutto, Sanjay Ahuja, Ms Sassui Abbas Laghari, Dr Rubina Shaikh  and Lal Luhana went to 10 Downing Street where Rubina and Sassui Laghari, submitted a petition for Rt Honorable David Cameron, the British Prime Minster, requesting to influence the Government of Pakistan to make all the necessary legal and policy changes to stop the kidnapping and forced conversions of Hindu girls and young women, kidnappings of Hindus for ransom and disparate treatment of Scheduled Caste Population.