2017 Prepares Pakistani Christians for Another Bleak Year of Persecution

By ICC’s Pakistan Correspondent

01/31/2018 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Over the past six months, there have been few signs of positive progress for Christians in Pakistan, especially in regards to the daily persecution they face because of their faith. In fact, due to several widely publicized incidents of persecution, most Pakistani Christians have little hope for their community’s security and development going into 2018.

Pakistan gained its independence approximately 70 years ago and drafted a constitution that established religious minorities, including Christians, as second-class citizens. By constitutional decree, religious minorities are legally barred from high government offices and all laws are required to be compatible with Islamic teachings. This interpretation of the constitution has only helped to reinforce the poor treatment of Christians and has led to ever increasing discrimination and violence.

In two of the more widely publicized incidents of persecution, Christian students were killed at educational institutions in Pakistan. In each case, trivial disputes escalated into deadly encounters. This extreme escalation was likely the result of the victim’s religious identity as a Christian.

In August 2017, Sharoon Masih, age 17, was beaten to death at school by a Muslim classmate over a cellphone being damaged. Only months later, in October 2017, Arsalan Masih, age 15, was beaten to death by a group of police officers at a tutoring center because he got into a fight with one of the police officer’s nephews earlier in the day.

Due to widespread discrimination against Christians, it is unlikely that Sharoon or Arsalan will receive justice. In fact, in January 2018, the Muslim classmate who killed Sharoon and confessed to involuntary manslaughter was released from prison by the Multan High Court due to “lack of evidence.”

The discrimination that will likely deny justice to Sharoon and Arsalan is the same discrimination that will guarantee that 40 Christians remain imprisoned in inhumane conditions without trial.

Following a pair of church bombings in March 2015, hundreds of Christians in Lahore rioted in the streets. During the riot, two Muslim bystanders were beaten and killed by the mob. In the months that followed, police arbitrarily arrested hundreds of Christian men in Lahore for the murders with little to no evidence.

Since then, 42 Christians have been formally charged with murdering the Muslim bystanders and have been subjected to inhumane prison conditions as they await trial. According to the prisoners’ families, jail authorities discriminate against them because of the crime with which they are accused and their religious identity. Inadequate food, poor healthcare, and hostility from other inmates have led many of these prisoners to suffer from chronic illnesses. As a result of these conditions, two of the prisoners, Indrias Masih and Usman Masih, died awaiting trial.

Terrorist organizations also continued to target Christian places of worship in 2017. Often seen as “soft targets,” Pakistani Christians have endured a number of church bombings, especially during holiday seasons where their community is more visible to the public.

On December 17, Bethel Memorial Methodist Church was attacked by ISIS suicide bombers. Located in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, the church was attacked as Christians were participating in a pre-Christmas holiday service. Church authorities confirmed that nine Christians died with more than 60 others injured.

For Christians in Pakistan, the above mentioned incidents of persecution are just a few examples of what it meant to be persecuted in 2017. False blasphemy accusations, forced conversions to Islam, terrorist attacks on their places of worship, and widespread discrimination continue to be faced by millions of Christians in Pakistan because of their religious identity. It is no wonder that Open Doors USA recently ranked Pakistan as the 5th most dangerous country in the world to be a Christian.