2019: Another Difficult Year for Christians in Pakistan
By ICC’s Pakistan Correspondent
03/19/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The year 2019 proved to be another challenging year for Christians in Pakistan. Despite lofty claims made by the PTI-led government, the country’s Christian community continued to suffer discrimination, intolerance, and instances of outright persecution. As a result of this continued trend, Pakistan was designated as a Court of Particular Concern by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Since the country’s formation in 1947, Christians and other religious minorities have been treated as second-class citizens. Pakistan’s constitution legally bars religious minorities from high government offices and requires that all laws are compatible with Islamic teachings.
Throughout 2019, International Christian Concern (ICC) documented at least 92 incidents of persecution against Pakistan’s Christian community. These incidents included instances of discrimination, sexual assault, abduction, forced conversion, forced marriage, beatings, torture, false blasphemy accusations, and even murder.
False blasphemy accusations continued to negatively affect Pakistan’s Christian community. ICC documented at least 10 Christians accused of blasphemy in 2019. This included Sunaina Amjad, Sophia Amjad, Soneha Amjad, and Sophia Qamar, who were falsely accused of desecrating a Quran by a Muslim neighbor in Karachi in February 2019. The four Christians and their families remain displaced from their homes despite being exonerated by police.
In March 2019, Stephen Masih in Sialkot was accused of blasphemy. In June 2019, Sunny and Noman Masih were accused of blasphemy in Bahawalnagar, as was Saleem Masih in Khanewal. In December 2019, Shehzad Masih was also accused of blasphemy in Faisalabad. Amir Masih was accused of blasphemy in 2019, but police proved him to be innocent at a very early stage in the investigation.
In May 2019, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman that had been on death row for nearly a decade, was finally allowed to leave Pakistan after being found innocent of committing blasphemy in 2009. Bibi and her family were allowed to flee to Canada, where they received asylum.
In July 2019, Jadoon Masih, a Pentecostal pastor, was acquitted of the blasphemy charges he was accused of in February 2017. This was done by the Lahore High Court after they found that there was not sufficient evidence to prove Masih had desecrated pages of the Quran found near his church.
Abduction, sexual assault, forced marriage, and forced conversion also continued to negatively affect Pakistan’s Christian community. ICC documented at least 37 Christian women and girls who were affected by this issue in 2019.
This included the case of 14-year-old Huma Younas from Karachi. According to local reports, Huma was abducted at gunpoint by Abdul Jabbar from her family’s home on October 10, 2019. Following the abduction, Huma’s parents were informed via text message that their daughter had “converted” to Islam and had “married” Jabbar. Huma’s parents have also received a cascade of threats from supporters of Jabbar and other extremists.
To rescue their daughter, the family argued that Huma’s marriage to Jabbar was invalid under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. The Christian couple supplied the court with baptismal and school documents proving Huma is 14.
On February 2, 2020, the Sindh High Court found that the marriage was valid, despite its violation of the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, because Huma had had her first period. The court’s ruling was based solely upon the judges’ interpretation of Sharia law.
In 2020, Pakistan ranked fifth on the Open Doors USA World Watch List of the top 50 countries where Christians are persecuted for their faith. As can be seen, by the evidence above, it is easy to understand this high ranking. Unfortunately, the intolerance, discrimination, and persecution faced by Pakistani Christians are unlikely to change in the year to come. Please remember to pray for Pakistan’s Christian community.