Violence against Christians is on the rise in Pakistan, where a disturbing trend of attacks by Islamist fanatics has made life a living hell for religious minorities.
The 97-percent Muslim nation that straddles the Middle East and Asia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for Christians, according to an annual report published last month by the State Department following calls by the U.S. Center for International Religious Freedom to include the country in its list of “Countries of Particular Concern.”
“Pakistan is on record as having one of the world’s worst and most widely abused blasphemy laws, which has resulted in abuse of the law through false accusations that prosper under a system of impunity,” Tiffany Barrans, international legal director for the American Center for Law & Justice, said. “Blasphemy accusations have resulted not only in the destruction of the lives of the accused but have often been at the root of the destruction of entire Christian communities.”
The State Department’s Oct. 14 International Religious Freedom (IRF) report submitted to Congress said that in 2014, government policies in Pakistan, “did not afford equal protection to members of majority and minority religious groups, and due to discriminatory legislation, minorities often were afraid to profess freely their religious beliefs. Media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported killings of religious minorities by police.”
The IRF report — required by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 — comes after a string of recent high-profile crimes against Christians in the Islamic country — including the gang rape last month of a deaf Christian woman inside her home in the Kasur district of Punjab. Three Muslim men reportedly entered the home, while other male family members were at work, and attacked the woman who screamed for mercy. One suspect, Muhammad Umar, was reportedly arrested, while the other two men remain at large.
The woman’s family hired Christian lawyer, Sardar Mushtaq Gill, who runs an advocacy group that offers free legal assistance to Pakistani Christians and other minorities persecuted for their religion. Gill told Fides news agency that it is difficult to prosecute such cases in Pakistan, saying, “Often in these cases the police take no action or, worse, side with the rapists.”
In October, a Christian bride-to-be, Nabila Bibi, was abducted by a Muslim man in Pakistan and forcibly converted to Islam. In May, a mob of Muslims burned Christian homes and a church and threatened to kill people after a mentally ill man was accused of burning pages of the Koran in one Pakistani town. And last year, a young, pregnant Christian woman and her Christian husband were burned to death by a Muslim mob in the Punjab province for committing blasphemy.
Religious rights groups say the deadly attacks in Pakistan are especially alarming because the Islamic country is a major recipient of U.S. assistance.