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By ICC’s Pakistan Correspondent

08/05/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Pakistan is a Muslim majority country with 97% of the population identified as Muslims and 3% of the population belonging to different religious minority groups including Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs. Pakistan gained its independence approximately 70 years ago; however, since then, religious minorities in the country have been continuously persecuted. The first six months of 2017 have, unfortunately, been no different for Christians living in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s constitution establishes religious minorities as “second-class” citizens because religious minorities are legally barred from high government offices and all laws and policies have to match up with Islamic teachings. This interpretation of law especially reinforces the constitution’s poor treatment of minority groups living in the country, leading to high levels of religious intolerance and violence.

Blasphemy laws are the most discriminatory laws that religious minorities fear. More than 1,000 people have been charged under these laws since they were expanded in 1985. Christians are the second largest group to be targeted. Most recently, Ashraf Masih, a young Christian bicycle mechanic in Lahore, was arrested over allegations of blasphemy against Islam after he became involved in a dispute regarding payment for services rendered to a customer.

Ashraf was not the only victim of this disputed law this year. Among others, Mukhtar Masih, a 70-year-old from Gujranwala, and Babu Shahbaz, a pastor from Lahore, were also counted in the list of Christians accused of blasphemy since January 2017.

The killing of Christians over religious disputes is also common in the country. This trend has not stopped in 2017. Three Christians have been reportedly killed by Muslims in first six months of the year due to religious disputes.

In May, Noman Masih, a 25-year-old Christian sanitary worker, was fatally shot by a group of Muslims for refusing to clean the house of an influential local Muslim because he preferred going to church on Sunday.

Discrimination on religious grounds is another major issue facing the Christian community of Pakistan. Several cases of this nature have already been reported this year. The most prominent example of discrimination was in a government-run hospital in Lahore where the administration forced its non-Muslim staffers to either recite verses from the Quran at morning assembly or be marked absent for the day.

In another case of discrimination, the Faisalabad Waste Management Company made an announcement in January that it would fill vacant posts for sanitary workers. The advertisement invited only non-Muslims to apply for sanitation work, essentially advertising that religious minorities were deemed qualified by their religious identity to pick up the trash of others. This same practice was repeated in other parts of the country multiple times during the past six months.

There are numerous examples of persecution of Christians and other minority groups that the government continues to ignore. The government has no policy to curb this intolerant mindset or treat minorities as equals because discrimination is built into the very fabric of the state. Thus hate-provoking educational policies, forced conversions, rape, torture, kidnappings, hatred in the media, and attacks on churches and residential properties are allowed to persist.

It is discouraging that the government has not introduced any legislation for the protection and equal rights of Christians and other minority groups. Therefore, Christians and other religious minorities continue to suffer persecution for their faith. Will 2017 continue to be a typical year of suffering for Christians and other religious minorities or will Pakistan’s government finally step up and break this 70-year cycle of intolerance and persecution?