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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

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”

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