Our vision is to create a network of Pakistanis united in Christ, focused on better quality of life, fellowship and religious freedom for Christians in Pakistan and the UK.
The start of 2013 was an incredibly busy time of preparation for the launch of BPCA’s seminal report on the situation of minorities of all kinds in Pakistan at the beginning of March. We combined this with a weekend of events – a protest and handing in of petitions at the Pakistani embassy and 10 Downing Street followed by a multi-faith peace concert and rally in Trafalgar square with many speakers and musicians, including the band Ooberfuse, who as ever provided tremendous support for us. This was followed by a memorial service for the assassinated Christian Government minister Shahbaz Bhatti on the 2nd anniversary of his martyrdom for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Part of the launch of ‘The Targeting of the ‘Minority Other’ in Pakistan’ was an event hosted by the Catholic Society at a top London university. The official launch occurred at the Houses of Parliament, with a number of politicians and other notables in attendance, including Bishop Nazir-Ali. The launch was reported by a number of media outlets, including in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the ordinary work of the BPCA continued, with reports of a major attack on a Christian colony in Lahore coming soon after the launch – fortunately nobody was killed, but many houses were burned down along with 2 churches and about 500 bibles, and 200 families had to flee the mobs which were led by a prominent local politician (there were in fact two attacks over two days, in response to false blasphemy accusations – the father of the accused was seized and beaten in police custody). Protests erupted across Pakistan’s Christian communities, and the police responded with tear gas and suppression, whilst extremist Muslims in other towns threatened to mount similar attacks and beat those planning protests. The BPCA both provided humanitarian aid for the victims of the attack and participated in a number of protests in the UK by Pakistani Christians in different locations. Meanwhile the Pakistani government promised all sorts of aid while the world’s media focussed on them, but the promised cheques for rebuilding quickly bounced. At the same time, the normal steady stream of lesser incidents occurred – false accusations of theft against a Christian maid who was tortured by police into confessing, along with political interference in the investigation of an early brutal death of an elderly Christian man in police custody.
The BPCA also lead our local "Redbridge Easter parade" in our community, something that we are doing again this year.
After all this activity, the workers of BPCA needed a break, so activity dropped off, although one did attend an event in Holland where the government was considering granting special status for Ahmahdi and Christian refugees from Pakistan. In the event, Ahmahdi’s and homosexuals were granted special status, but Christians haven’t been yet. Please pray over this yet, as the BPCA, along with several other Christian groups, have recently challenged this position and made another presentation to Dutch politicians on the issue – we expect a response in June.
Incidents continued through spring – a Christian shot dead here and other wounded in a rural land dispute, there a teenage maid brutally raped by her family’s landlord, followed by the usual police pressure on the family to compromise and not press charges, followed by an attack on an elderly Christian couple and other Christian women after a dispute over straying goats, whilst another Christian family, already ripped off over a buy by instalments TV are savagely beaten in their home by the vendor and false criminal charges made to demand a further huge amount from the family.
BPCA researcher Nathanael Lewis comments ‘After the extreme effort in producing the report earlier in the year, the number of stories we posted has dropped off considerably. This does not mean that things have improved in Pakistan – far from it. We have published but a tithe of the stories we have come across – in fact the problem has been that we have been overwhelmed with stories – we have covered the major ones, but there is a flood of relatively minor, but still deeply disturbing, stories all the time – murders, rapes and torture, police brutality and the like, along with the usual discriminations, threats and false blasphemy charges.’
Meanwhile, in the UK, Islamic extremism struck in the heart of London, and the BPCA organized a multi-faith memorial service in Woolwich, where Lee Rigby was murdered outside his army barracks. See ITV Clip (Click here).
As spring turned to summer we covered the situation of Pakistani Christian refugees in several locations, particularly the appalling conditions in Thailand. And the stream of incidents continued – a Christian teenager tricked out of her home by a false story that her father was in hospital, and then taken to a disused hospital and raped at gun point in front of onlookers, a newly married Christian labourer beaten to death over a false accusation of stealing, a poor Christian factory worker asks for a loan from his employer, only to have the employers nephews continually sexually harass the family daughters – when the father objected, the nephews beat him and later attacked the family in their own home, a Catholic nurse and her family under threat from a notorious influential businessman after she refused to convert and marry him, more violence against Christians in Lahore after a cable TV vendor demands extra fees from poor Christian widows. July ended with a Christian landowner murdered by Muslim rivals in front of his young children – the police only promised to investigate after Christians refused to bury him and demonstrated for three days and two nights, and immediately reneged on the promise when the protest ended.
August saw the stream of incidents continue – Muslim employers brutally beat a Christian employee unconscious at his own home because he was unable to work due to high fever, and even kicked his 8 yearold granddaughter when she tried to save him, and the local hospital refused to give him the necessary legal-medical certificates for his injuries out of fear of his employers. Monsoon rains hit the slums of Islamabad especially badly, but a local mosque made it worse when they released 5 years worth of stored rain water to make room for the fresh water. Christians affected by flooding around the country reported government discrimination in aid and relief, just as in the last few years flood seasons – the BPCA was able to get aid to a number of Christian flood victims in several areas, including food and medicine. A young Christian woman was arrested by four policemen who beat her in her house, on the street and on the motorbike they put her on, and was then further tortured during at least 5 days illegal detention in the police station.
More stories came in over September, including an 8 year old schoolboy on his way to school who was kidnapped and raped unconscious by a Muslim man, a 16 year old Christian girl kidnapped, gang-raped and forced to convert and marry by her neighbours in Lahore, with the police harassing her family when they registered the case, a whole Christian community of day labourers attacked and ‘boycotted’ economically because a Christian boy and a Muslim girl eloped - the Muslim mob seized the boy’s mother and sisters and sexually abused the girls, and accused the Christians of kidnap, with the police trying to engineer a ‘compromise’, and a 5 year old Christian girl kidnapped and brutally raped. In addition, a Christian goldsmith was murdered by a Muslim rival, and a gang burst into the families house and beat them and issued death threats when they pursued a legal case – which the police tried to derail by urging ‘compromise’.
The month ended with the most devastating attack ever on Pakistan’s Christians – a double suicide bomb attack on a church service in the city of Peshawar that was widely reported in the media. However, the BPCA did receive evidence that the media did downplay the number of dead. Virtually every Pakistani Christian community in the UK had family members lost or injured in this attack. Over 20 children were killed, and many families suffered losses across three generations. Police on duty had let in the bombers without searching them. There were also reports that some medics had been selling organs of the victims on the black market. The incident led to protests in the UK which the BPCA helped organize, and also protests across Pakistan. These protests were the occasion for more atrocities against Christians, with police brutality and mob attacks on churches and Christians. A BPCA representative also joined Pakistani Christians to protest in Paris. Thanks to the generous donations of BPCA supporters, we now have a fund to support victims of the attack and are helping with long-term medical needs and education for children in families where the bread-winner has been lost or is unable to work, with more aid due to go out in the near future. Once more, promised government aid to victims seemed to vanish like a mirage. However, the incident did provoke some heart-warming incidents of Muslim support – including Muslims creating human chains around one or two churches during Sunday services, and many Muslims expressing sympathy with the bombing victims. However, the following months saw a spate of new false blasphemy allegations against Christians.
BPCA chairman Wilson Chowdhry attended an event at the House of Lords that focussed on the persecution of Christians around the world, and the issue of persecuted minorities seeking asylum in the UK. In addition, a Freedom of Information request to the Home office revealed that the proportion of Christians both claiming asylum in the UK and gaining asylum successfully were startlingly low.
November saw the highest official Islamic courts and authorities resolutely resisting any change in the blasphemy laws except for one – to make the death sentence mandatory rather than just optional. There was also a new false blasphemy case reported against a successful Christian fireworks vendor after he sold fireworks for a Muslim wedding and the buyer claimed to have found Arabic writing used in them. However, the month did end with a bit of good news – the acquittal on appeal and release of a Christian who had been on death row for 6 years. This was offset by his account that he was dropped by many groups after the immediate publicity, he had no job (and had suffered a heart attack in jail earlier in the year) and he and his family were receiving death threats, which is par for the course for those acquitted in court of blasphemy.
Unfortunately, 2014 started with a string of reports about brutal incidents. In particular, we shared a report about a Muslim employee of a senior railway official who regularly sexually harassed Christian maids, and when he forced one to sweep the yard in her husband’s absence, she returned to her room to find the man in the process of attempting to rape her three year old daughter while her one year old daughter was gagged and tied to a bed. It turned out he had tried to rape both. Because this man had information that he could blackmail their mutual employer over, the employer fired the victims family and left them homeless as their accommodation was tied to the job. In the meantime, a 16 year old Christian girl was abducted on her way to school and forced to marry a rich Muslim man. Local human rights workers report this is common – saying that the girls are often kept as slaves and later burnt alive. In another case a whole family were forcibly beaten and seized to work in a brick kiln factory. In February, a Christian man and a Muslim girl secretly eloped. When the Muslims found out, they approached the Christian community and said that if the girl was not returned in a day or two they would come and burn down their homes and execute some of them. The police were told, and they did come and protect Christian homes from the huge mob that came after Friday prayers, but they also arrested the father and cousin of the Christian man who had eloped, torturing them into confessing to helping in ‘kidnapping’ the Muslim girl. They also registered charges of theft against the groom. The police claimed the two were put in custody ‘for their own good’, but the father of the groom died of a heart attack from his treatment in police custody. In addition, an Afghan convert to Christianity who was deported from the UK last year and managed to flee across the border to Pakistan is living on the run, hiding from the Taliban, along with a Christian cousin called ‘Lily’. In February, the Taliban caught up with them, and starting shooting. Lily took bullets meant for her cousin and he escaped, and is still hiding and on the run. Please pray for him. Earlier this month (March) extremists stormed a church under construction and levelled it after a cross was erected above the gate. Local police and authorities promise to arrest the culprits, but so far, all they have done is threaten the local Christians. Furthermore, a Muslim cleric has been waging a war against a Christian school that serves the local community – three armed gunmen burst in and savagely beat the headteacher and two other lady human rights workers. These two female workers had been stopped by gunmen in the street a few days before and warned if they did not stop their women’s rights programs and leave the village in 5 days, they would be killed.
Behind the scenes, the BPCA has been doing other work, including getting involved with asylum appeal cases of a number of Pakistani Christians. We do this by writing supporting letters or expert witness statements, and although we don’t directly get involved in the court cases – solicitors who request our help do that – we have had an extremely high success rate, close to 100%. In the most recent case, the solicitor praised the exceptional and brilliant quality of our work. In addition, the BPCA has produced another report concerning education in Pakistan. Increasing numbers of people are joining our Facebook group, which as I write is closing on 8,500 members and climbing fast.
One other matter we are working on behind the scenes is in the setting up of a charity to help Pakistani Christians. However, there are some issues with the charity commission and we need prayer for help and guidance and wisdom in this matter.