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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_custom_heading text=”By ICC’s Pakistan Correspondent” font_container=”tag:h6|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes” css=”.vc_custom_1524746114971{margin-bottom: 22px !important;}”][vc_single_image image=”99704″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]07/11/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The first half of 2018 bespeaks a frightening climate for Pakistan’s Christians void of progress toward their religious freedom.

Since its formation, Pakistan has regarded its religious minorities as second-class citizens. One has only to look at the  country’s constitution for evidence. Religious minorities are legally barred from high government offices and all laws are required to be compatible with Islamic teachings. Judicial interpretation of the constitution has only served to reinforce the marginalization of Christians and other religious minorities.

Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy statutes continue to damage Pakistan’s Christian community with seven Christians booked under these laws between January and June 2018. Six blasphemy accusations were reported from Faisalabad and one from Lahore.

These blasphemy allegations created country-wide tensions and threatened the entire Christian community. On February 24, Sajid Masih, one of the victims of these blasphemy accusations, sustained major injuries when he jumped from the fourth floor of the Federal Investigation Agency building in Lahore where he and his cousin, Patras Masih, also accused of blasphemy, were being tortured. Prior to jumping, Sajid had reportedly been severely tortured and ordered by investigating officers to have sex with his male cousin.

When news of the blasphemy charges against Sajid and Patras was made public, a Muslim group blocked the main roads in Lahore, demanding that the Christian youths be hanged publicly. These protests spurred many members of Lahore’s Christian community to flee their homes under threat of being set on fire by the fundamentalists.

The first six months of 2018 have also seen kidnappings, rape, forced conversions, and discrimination. Among these victims was a 25-year-old Christian girl named Asma Yaqoob. On April 17, Asma was set on fire in the Sialkot District when a Muslim man threw acid on her body. According to reports, Asma refused to marry him and resisted when he attempted to forcibly marry her and convert her to Islam. She sustained burns over 80% of her body and died in a Lahore hospital after fighting for her life for six days.[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”“Murders, kidnappings, forced conversions, forced marriages, attacks, discrimination, and church destruction are all issues that Pakistan’s authorities must address if Christians are to remain a part of the country’s national fabric.”” font_container=”tag:h5|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes” css=”.vc_custom_1531335696934{margin-top: 50px !important;margin-bottom: 60px !important;padding-right: 20px !important;padding-left: 20px !important;}”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1531335684815{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]

On March 26, a Christian man named Suneel Saleem confronted medical staff after his pregnant sister was denied medical care. The medical staff and security guards at the Services Hospital in Lahore responded by beating him to death. The family remains under threat and is being pressured to withdraw the case against the medical staff.

Over the reporting period, Christians remained the target of Pakistan’s terrorist organizations. On April 2, terrorists connected to ISIS shot and killed a family of four Christians in Quetta. The family was shot as they were getting into an auto-rickshaw to attend an Easter celebration. The names of those who died were Firdous Emmanuel, Imran Masih, Tariq Masih, and Pervaiz Masih.

Two other Christians, Rashid Masih and Azhar Masih, were also killed by terrorists in Quetta on April 15. Two terrorists on a motorbike opened indiscriminate fire on a gathering of Christians on a street of a predominantly Christian neighborhood.

Christian places of worship were also targeted on several occasions over the past six months. A church run by the Gospel of Jesus Mission was set ablaze in Shahdara Town in Lahore on April 15, 2018. The alter, pulpit, dozens of Christian books, carpets, pedestal fans, plastic chairs, tables, wooden crosses, tarpaulin, and worship instruments were desecrated and reduced to ashes.

In January 2018, authorities identified and shut down six active house churches in the Abbottabad District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In June 2018, in Tobe Tek Singh, another church of the Full Gospel Assemblies faced intense opposition from their primarily Muslim village to the point of having to close down.

These examples are just a snapshot of the persecution that Christians in Pakistan have endured in the first six months of 2018 alone. Murders, kidnappings, forced conversions, forced marriages, attacks, discrimination, and church destruction are all issues that Pakistan’s authorities must address if Christians are to remain a part of the country’s national fabric. Until decisive action is taken, Christians in Pakistan will remain one of the most persecuted communities in the world.

For interviews with William Stark, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: