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A dark Christmas for Pakistani Christians

ICC Note:

During a recent visit to Pakistan, several Christians told ICC that they will be staying in their homes this Christmas as hardly a year goes by where Christians are not the targets of violent assaults during the holiday season. While Christmas should be a time of celebration, many Christians in Pakistan and throughout the Middle East live in fear of increased persecution. Deutsche Welle gives us the latest on the state of Christians in Pakistan in this article.

12/25/2012 Pakistan (Deutsche Welle) – Christians celebrate Christmas amid growing fear of persecution and rampant economic and social discrimination in Muslim-majority Pakistan. The year 2012 was one of the worst years for them in the country.

In many parts of the world, Christmas means a time of celebration. But for Christians in Pakistan, who live under constant fear of persecution by the state and majority Sunni Muslims, there is not much to celebrate.

Christians make up about two percent of the 180 million people living in Pakistan. Rights organizations say that like any other religious minority, they face legal and cultural discrimination in the Islamic Republic.

Pakistan's non-government human rights commission, HRCP (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan), reported that the year 2012 was one of the worst years for Pakistani Christians; a number of them were charged with blasphemy, their churches were burnt and houses looted in many parts of the country.

Blasphemy is a sensitive topic in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim. Controversial blasphemy laws introduced by the Islamic military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s make life for Christians more difficult. Activists say the laws have little to do with blasphemy and are often used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas; they say the Christians are thereby often victimized.

Living under blasphemy laws

On August 16, Rimsha Masih - a Christian girl aged between 10 and 14 - was accused of committing a blasphemous act by a religious cleric in her town. The cleric said she had burnt pages upon which were inscribed verses from the Koran. Masih was promptly taken into police custody.

Pakistani officials claimed the girl suffered from Down's Syndrome, a genetic disorder causing major learning disabilities. Western governments expressed serious concern over her arrest. After numerous protests by rights organizations and Western governments, a Pakistani court ordered her release from custody.

But Asia Bibi has not had such luck. In 2010, Bibi, an impoverished farmer, was sentenced to death after her neighbors accused her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. She is still languishing in prison. The liberal Pakistanis who chose to support Bibi were also not spared by Islamists.

A few months after Bibi's conviction, former governor of the Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was murdered by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri said he killed Taseer for speaking out against the blasphemy laws and in support of Bibi. In March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's former minister for minority affairs, was assassinated by a religious fanatic for the same reason.

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