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Selected rights violations against Christians

August 2015

Location: Gujrat
Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation

Three Christian men were arrested under terrorism laws for using the word ‘prophet’ on a poster commemorating the 20th anniversary of a local priest, Fazal Masih. The word ‘prophet’ is only used in Pakistan for those considered prophets under Islam: any other usage is deemed a blasphemy offence. It was not clear, however, on what grounds the police charged them. Although terrorism laws are generally used to target minorities, the laws are often abused to speed up prosecution in sensitive cases.

October 2015

Location: Sargodha
Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation

An evangelist and prayer leader, Shakil,* lived on donations from community members. Police reportedly pressured him to pay a bribe from the money he received and then, after he refused to do so, arrested him on 8 October 2015 and charged him under Article 295-A that deals with blasphemy. In their report, the police accused Shakil of desecrating a sword in his prayer room with kalma-e-tayyaba written on it – the primary declaration of belief in Islam – and claimed they arrested him to prevent the outbreak of communal riots. According to Shakil, however, the accusations are their revenge for him not paying a bribe. Shakil was detained at the police station of Sargodha’s satellite town, his family forced into hiding due to fear of reprisals. Shakil was later released on bail, and has joined his family in hiding away from his community due to concerns over safety.

November 2015

Location: Faisalabad
Nature of incident: Discriminatory practices

A Christian schoolgirl was beaten up and locked in a toilet for three hours, until the school closed for the day, for using the bathroom at the school premises. Her classmates complained to the headmistress that she had used the school toilet, which was reserved for Muslim students only.

This incident reflects a pervasive popular belief among the majority population that non-Muslims are ‘unclean’, resulting in them being banned from sharing eating utensils or using communal toilet facilities in many schools, offices and other places.

November 2015

Location: Karachi
Nature of incident: Destruction of property

A web television channel of the Christian community, Gawahi TV, was damaged during a fire in late November 2015. An employee of the TV channel said the incident was an act of arson as the main door’s locks were found to be broken and traces of flammable chemicals were also detected. Office equipment including computers, hard drives, memory cards, along with religious material, were either damaged or missing.

There are few outlets in Pakistan affiliated with non-Muslim community groups. Although the attack left their office in ashes, the web television channel has continued transmission.

December 2015

Location: Chunian, Kasur
Nature of incident: Kidnapping

Parveen,* aged 14, was kidnapped on 31 December 2015. The minor, who worked as a domestic helper, was reportedly asked by her employer to go somewhere with the employer’s husband. It is not known where Parveen was taken, but the girl has not returned since. Her parents approached the police to report their daughter as missing, but initially the police refused to accept their complaint and did not file a report. They later were able to file a First Information Report (FIR), but at the time of writing Parveen remains missing.

December 2015

Location: Lahore
Nature of incident: Discrimination, persecution, proselytizing accusation

A Christian physical education teacher was accused of proselytizing and an inquiry was initiated against her. The inquiry came after a complaint by the father of a student who claimed that the teacher had been preaching Christianity to the students. Her husband said an overwhelming majority of Christians are fearful of hurting the religious sentiments of others and remain on guard, so it was inconceivable that she would have attempted to proselytize. He said the inquiry had been initiated with the intention of victimizing a teacher on the basis of her religion.

Such accusations against teachers are not unprecedented, highlighted by the case of Christian teacher and poet Naimat Ahmar, who in 1992 was accused of blasphemy and extra-judicially killed in Faisalbad, Punjab. Other high-profile blasphemy accusations against minority teachers include the case of Catherine Shaheen in 1995 and, more recently, Shahid Nadeem in 2011.

January 2016

Location: Baatth village, Lahore district
Nature of Incident: Destruction of property (place of worship)

At around 1a.m. on 6 January 2016, after returning home from a service, the local pastor of Baatth village, Yaqub,* was informed that the church building was burning. The pastor arrived to find the church on fire, with flames spreading quickly. With the help of others, he was eventually able to extinguish the flame, mitigating some of the damage. It is unclear how the fire started, but the people in the community believe it was a targeted attack at their place of worship.

January 2016

Location: Sargodha
Nature of incident: Forced conversion, marriage and sexual abuse

Mariam,* a young Christian woman, was married against her will and forced to convert to Islam. One night in January 2016, some men in their village abducted Mariam and her younger sister.

‘It was late in the night and everyone was sleeping. Everyone was home that night. Suddenly there was a knock on the door and my younger sister went to open the door. Six people barged into our house, while two other men stood outside. They came in the room, pulled me by the hair and took me with them. I didn’t want to go.’

The sisters were then taken to Sargodha, where they were forced into marriage according to the Islamic tradition of nikkah (Muslim marriage contract). Mariam says she has no memory of what happened before or after but later found herself in Islamabad, nearly 300 km away from Sargodha. There she was locked in a room, beaten and raped on a daily basis. She managed to escape one day when her captors forgot to close the door behind them. However, her younger sister is still in Islamabad.

February 2016

Location: Daska, Sialkot
Nature of incident: Kidnapping, forced conversion

On 4 February 2016, Asif,* a Christian man, asked his 14-year-old daughter to meet him outside his workplace in Daska, Sialkot. When his daughter was on her way to meet him, however, she was reportedly abducted by an acquaintance of the family. When Asif realized that she had been taken, he went to the house of the acquaintance where the family stated they were not aware of her whereabouts. Asif was later informed by others that his daughter had been forcibly converted to Islam and married to her kidnapper. After the case was brought to court, the High Court ordered the police to recover the girl as soon as possible. At the time of writing, she remains missing.

February 2016

Location: Badamibagh, Lahore
Nature of incident: Physical attack and forced conversion

In February 2016, Yonus,* a Christian man in Badamibagh, Lahore, was threatened following a quarrel with his Muslim neighbours. After this incident, his neighbours began harassing his daughter on the streets. Some days later, on 28 February, the girl, an accomplished student, was reportedly abducted and forcibly converted to Islam before being married against her will. A police report was filed, but there has been no progress in the case. The father says the police are on the side of the perpetrators and have not allowed the parents to meet their daughter.

This is the same area where, in 2013, a mob ransacked Joseph Colony, torching approximately 100 Christian homes, after a Christian, Sawan Masih, was accused of blasphemy. The court ruling a year later sentenced Sawan Masih to death for blasphemy, but the victims of the attacks have yet to receive justice for the destruction of their homes.

April 2016

Location: Shahdara, Lahore
Nature of incident: Intimidation and threats

Paul* used social media to highlight human rights violations against Pakistan’s Christian minority, despite warnings from his friends and family. A stranger subsequently wrote to Paul and threatened him with ‘serious consequences’ if he continued. The next day, he received a letter that said he would be killed unless he converted to Islam. Since then, Paul and his family have been in hiding, and have recently relocated to the United States.

While social media is a powerful tool for activism, these platforms also allow for the proliferation of hate speech and threats. Contributing to this was the absence of cyber laws in Pakistan, as well as a failure to apply existing legislation on hate speech. However, in April 2016 a cybercrime bill, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 (PECB), was passed through the National Assembly, despite opposition from civil society groups as well as some MPs. As part of the National Action Plan, the aim of this law has been described as ‘preventing online harassment, cyber stalking and blackmailing’, with the intention of criminalizing such offences. However, the law has been critiqued for its breadth – which goes beyond its stated aims – as well as its vague definition of the crimes, which could leave it open to being abused, including against activists.

May 2016

Location: Mandi Bahauddin
Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation
After a Christian worker at a rural health centre was accused of watching a ‘blasphemous video’, a mob threatened to burn down all the houses in his neighbourhood. The man, a sanitary worker by profession who was reportedly illiterate, was beaten up at his workplace and his mobile phone destroyed. A mob subsequently gathered outside the mosque after Friday prayers to plan the razing of the Christian community’s homes. The police, however, said it was a false accusation because nobody who had accused the Christian worker could give the police any details about the video itself. The attack was prevented by one of the worshippers at the mosque, who first tried to stop the group from plotting the attack and later informed the police after the crowd refused to listen to him. While police prevented the attack on Christian homes, the mere allegation of blasphemy was enough to cause at least half of the Christian families living in the area to flee their homes.

* To ensure the security of rapporteurs and victims, all names not already published in media reports have been anonymized.

May 2016

Location: Kasur, Punjab
Nature of incident: Discrimination, intimidation
An ice-cream vendor was abused and humiliated on the street when a woman called him chura (a derogatory term for people of a lower caste, typically used only to refer to Christians) and said he could not sell ice cream to Muslim children. Two days later, when he went to sell ice cream at the same place, two other men came to him and verbally abused him. They accused him of selling unclean items to Muslim women and children. Later, a crowd of nearly 20 people gathered around him and beat the vendor, and vandalized his belongings. The assailants threatened that they would only leave him on the condition that he converted to Islam, but bystanders were able to intervene to help rescue the ice vendor.

May 2016

Location: Faisalabad, Punjab
Nature of incident: Discrimination
Two Christian teenagers were returning home from class on a motorbike when the police stopped them; the police are often a feared institution in Pakistan, particularly amongst minorities, because of widespread abuse and harassment. Scared, the boys attempted to flee and were chased by police officials – who claimed to believe they were terrorists – to the Christian colony where they lived. Upon reaching the locality, police opened fire, which led to one officer wounding himself. Other officials then entered the church in the area, where there were prayers ongoing, where they were alleged to have assaulted and intimidated worshippers, taking some into custody. It is reported that the police later filed a case against the boys, claiming they had shot the police.

May 2016

Sheikhupura, Punjab
Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation
A Christian man, Usman Masih, was falsely accused of blasphemy on charges of sending text messages that were derogatory to Islam. A police report was filed against him, accusing him of sending messages defaming Islam and also blackmailing Muslim women. No evidence was provided to substantiate these claims.
This reflects the fact that in nearly all cases of blasphemy, the evidence is very poor and partial. While these cases do not always lead to imprisonment or punishment, the mere allegation of blasphemy is enough to put an individual’s life at risk. As a result, the law is frequently used to settle personal scores.

June 2016

Location: Sheikhupura, Punjab
Nature of incident: Physical attack
A 16-year-old Christian girl was gang-raped in Sheikhupura. She was alone at home when a neighbour asked her to come over to their house for something. When she went, her neighbours, two brothers, gang-raped the teenager, leaving her in a critical condition, and fled. Reports suggested that the girl’s religion was mentioned as a motive for the attack. The family filed a police report and a case is being heard in Sheikhupura sessions court.

June 2016

Location: Lahore, Punjab
Nature of incident: Physical attack
Residents of Joseph Colony, a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore, were often harassed by groups of Muslim men, who would sit near a girls’ school in the colony to intimidate the students. On June 18, a Christian resident, Vicky Nasir, got into an argument with the group of men. This led to a fight and the crowd - between 25 and 30 men - beat up Nasir with rods, sticks and stones. He tried to escape and ran towards his house to seek refuge, but the attackers came after him and also beat his family members, reportedly tearing off his sister’s clothes and opening fire at his brother-in-law. Fearing for his family’s life, Nasir also fired some shots and wounded three of the assailants. When the police came to the site of the attack, it is reported they only arrested Nasir and his family.

This reflects unequal application of justice when it comes to minorities, that is commonly reported in Pakistan. For example, in the same area in 2013, more than 3,000 Muslims torched some 100 Christian homes, following a blasphemy allegation against one individual in the neighbourhood, Sawant Masih. While Sawant was given the death sentence for blasphemy, the rioters went unpunished.

September 2016

Location: Kot Radha Krishan, Punjab
Nature of incident: Physical attack, abuse
A Christian teacher, Liaquat* Masih, attempted to address religious hatred incited against non-Muslims in his school and reportedly, as a result, was threatened and intimidated. His colleagues reportedly attempted to forcibly convert him, while one stormed into his class and beat him violently. The victim had to seek refuge in the principal’s office. With the harassment from colleagues intensifying and fearing for his life, he moved with his wife and children out of his neighbourhood.

Kot Radha Krishan is the same town where, in November 2014, a Christian couple, Shama and Shehzad, were attacked by a mob of nearly 400 people and then shoved into a brick kiln after they were falsely accused of desecrating the Qur’an. The couple left behind three children.

September 2, 2016

Location: Kasur, Punjab
Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation

A Christian teenager, Nabeel Masih, was accused of blasphemy for ‘liking’ a picture of the holiest place for Muslims, the Khana-e-Kaaba, on Facebook. The complainant had said he had seen a post on Nabeel's Facebook timeline which was derogatory to the sacred place and had hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims. Article 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with blasphemy, includes hurting ‘religious feelings’ and carries a punishment of up to 10 years.

The 16-year-old is now in prison, and other Christians in his village are afraid because previous blasphemy allegations against one person have led to entire neighbourhoods being destroyed. Nabeel’s family is in hiding, while some other Christian families have also fled from the area in fear of their lives. This incident illustrates the potential volatility of online forums such as Facebook for triggering or inciting religiously motivated violence.

October 2016

Quetta, Balochistan
Nature of incident: Blasphemy accusation
Blasphemy allegations against an eight-year-old Christian boy in Quetta were dropped following efforts made by local politicians. The boy and his mother were accused of burning pages of the Holy Qur’an. Hours after the allegations emerged, police filed a case against them and put them in prison. While the Christian boy and his mother were behind bars, rights activists and Christian parliamentarians called for their release.

This is not the first time that a minor has been charged with a blasphemy offence. In 1993, Salamat Masih, 12, was charged under the blasphemy law for a crime he never committed. More recently, in 2011, a 13-year-old Christian girl was accused of blasphemy by her Muslim teacher for a misspelling. Another well-known case is of Rimsha Masih, an eight-year-old girl, who too was charged for blasphemy in 2012: while the case was subsequently dropped and the Muslim cleric responsible for making the accusations was alleged to have falsified the evidence, Rimsha was forced to seek refuge in Canada with her family after months in hiding. Further examination has led to the conclusion that, in each of these cases, blasphemy accusations were fabricated and motivated by personal vendettas, or the desire to seize the property of the victimized family.

October 2016

Quetta, Balochistan
Nature of incident: Discrimination
A law enforcement agency advertised a minority post in Balochistan. A young Christian woman passed the entry test and was also called in for an interview that she successfully passed. But months passed and she never heard back from the agency again. With her father, she approached the relevant authorities to inquire about her application but there was still no response.

While bureaucratic delays are not uncommon, it is important to note this incident is part of a broader context whereby even the few posts reserved for non-Muslims are often given to Muslims, and it is believed that this was the case here too. According to a report published in September 2015 in Pakistan’s daily newspaper, The Express Tribune, 70 per cent of the posts reserved for religious minorities in the federal government are vacant.

October 2016

Quetta, Balochistan
Nature of incident: Discrimination
David, a Christian, worked as a cleaner at a government school in Quetta for 10 years. He retired in 2015 but has been waiting ever since to receive his pension. In an interview with a local rapporteur, he claimed that he has most likely been deprived of his due funds due to his status as a religious minority, and because he does not know people in influential circles. This reflects the overall finding that challenges facing Pakistanis with regards to employment and welfare are exacerbated for Pakistan’s religious minorities.

While minorities struggle to access many professional opportunities, jobs as cleaners or sweepers – typically regarded as low status and poorly paid - are almost always relegated to non-Muslims. There are various instances where government jobs for cleaners state in their advertisements that only non-Muslims can apply. Socio-economic challenges facing Christians and other minorities are therefore particularly pronounced, and are further exacerbated due to barriers to accessing services.

December 2016

Jamshoro-Sindh
Nature of incident: Threats and intimidation
Unidentified masked men riding on motorbikes stopped Advocate Sooba Bhatti, Bishop Younus Gill and two other Christian leaders at gunpoint. The incident occurred when they were stepping out of a prayer and candlelight vigil held for the safety and release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman handed a blasphemy sentence due to allegations made after a dispute over her drinking water from the same cup as her Muslim workers.

Gunmen threatened the organizers to desist or face consequences, warning that they would hurt their family members if the community heads did not cease their activities against ‘Islamic teachings’. Bhatti and Bishop Gill reported this incident to the police, but so far there has been no progress in the case.

Asia Bibi’s case is a very contentious one in Pakistan and she remains the only woman to have been sentenced to death for blasphemy. In 2011, the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was shot by his own bodyguard after he went to visit Asia in jail and spoke in her defence. Four months later, minority affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatii, who held an inquiry into Asia’s case and found it ‘baseless’, was also shot dead in Islamabad. Asia Bibi’s case was once again brought to court, in this instance for an appeal, in October 2016, after her death sentence was suspended the previous year. However, the appeal process was once again delayed after the court was adjourned when one of the judges – who had been previously involved in the case of Salman Taseer – stepped down on the set date of appeal. A new date for appeal was not immediately confirmed.