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Lights dim for Christians in Pakistan

Babette Francis
(An edited version of this article is available in the June 2009 issue of AD2000)

Just before Easter the UN Human Rights Council, belying its stated purpose of protecting human rights, passed a resolution banning criticism of religion, specifically criticism of Islam.  The resolution, sponsored by Pakistan on behalf of the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), though couched in 'human rights' language with references to "diversity" and "stereotyping", is a thinly-disguised attempt  to legitimize anti-blasphemy  laws that theocratic Muslim regimes use to squelch dissent and persecute religious minorities.

Western nations and secular NGOs opposed the resolution, stressing that the concept of  "defamation of religion" has no basis in domestic or international law and "would alter the very meaning of human rights, which protect individuals from harm, but not beliefs from critical inquiry."

One of those targeted by the OIC resolution is Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali who was born and raised in Pakistan and was the Anglican Bishop of Raiwind. Fifteen years ago he was appointed Bishop of Rochester in the UK and sits in the House of Lords. He has repeatedly warned about the dangers of Islamic Sharia law, but his warnings  fell on deaf ears because Archbishop Rowan Williams, Primate of the Anglican Church, has called for limited application of Sharia  in Britain.  Archbishop Williams has a history of ambiguous, if not muddled, pronouncements, but one wonders what he knows of the implications of Sharia for women, Christians, Jews, "infidels" and  apostates who convert from Islam to another faith.    
Recently Bishop Nazir-Ali (who has received  death threats)  resigned as Bishop of  Rochester so  he could  devote his time to alleviating the plight of Christians suffering religious persecution. He wrote about Pakistan in the Telegraph  (15 April):

" ......One of the most significant failures of President Musharraf's time in office was the Council of Madrassas' [religious schools] refusal to co-operate with the government's programme of curriculum reform. This cannot be allowed to continue. An integrated education strategy is as important as a security one: generations of the poor cannot be allowed to become fodder for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. A revision of textbooks is also needed to root out teachings of hate against Christianity, Judaism, India and the West.

"And while some of the harsh Islamic laws that affect women and religious minorities have been modified, others are still on the statute book. The notorious 'Blasphemy Law' prescribes a mandatory death penalty for insulting the Prophet of Islam. It has been used to terrorise religious minorities and to curb even modest freedoms of expression and of belief. Those who declare themselves friends of Pakistan must help to get this law repealed. Many decent and devout Pakistani Muslims are already ashamed of it......"

Unfortunately, the current Government of Pakistan has not only failed to curb the Madrassas but has also ceded large areas of Pakistan in the Swat valley and the North West Frontier Province to  be ruled by local Islamist parties applying Sharia law.  This imposition of Sharia is having a devastating effect on the morale of Christians in Pakistan and on moderate elements in Pakistan who support minority rights.

I quote from a 12th April article in the Pakistan Christian Post - I haven't changed the grammar because the article as written has a particular poignancy:    

"Easter observed under tight security in Pakistan:

"Easter eve of 2009 in Pakistan was witnessed entirely different than previous years when Churches nor Christian colonies were bathing in electric flood lights or decorated. The midnight services of Easter in Peshawar and Nowshera were thinly attended
while in Swat valley were no prayer gatherings. The Islamabad and Rawalpindi Churches were heavily guarded by police and Christians without any vehicle or available other transportation hesitated to get out of homes and preferred to stay away from worship places.

"The Dhok Ilahi Bux, a major residential area of Rawalpindi Christians from century was deep in dark and homes were not decorated by electric lights. The Christian colonies in Islamabad were also deserted and street were not filled like previous years. The Catholic and Church of Pakistan Cathedrals in Lahore were turned to be forts by presence of law enforcement deployment on fear of terrorists attack. Same scenes were witnessed in Multan, RahimYar Khan and  Bahawalpur cities of western Punjab where Christians prayed under fear.

"The Karachi and Hyderabad cities of Sindh province attracted large number of gathering in Churches during midnight services of Easter but not sounded like before. The Quetta city Churches only received few dozen worshipers due to strike in Balochistan province on killing of Baloch nationalist leaders.

"The national newspapers published from Karachi, Hyderabad, Quetta, Lahore, Multan,
Rawalpindi and Peshawar not published any message on April 12, by President of Pakistan, Prime Minister of Pakistan and Federal Minister for Minorities because such messages were not released this year. The speaker of National Assembly of Pakistan was only  VIP to congratulate Christian on feast of Easter 2009. The Federal Minority Minister Shahbaz Bhatti who belongs to Christian community also not bothered to release any message or help for poor Christians to celebrate Easter.

"There were not any processions of Christ the King during month of Lent in Pakistan which were being organized from decades. The Easter of 2009, passed by in silence and fear without family visits and dancing in streets of Christian colonies through out Pakistan."

Pray for Christians in Pakistan where Easter lights were dim, reflecting the "dhimmi" status inflicted on non-Muslims under Sharia.

Babette Francis was born in India and spent time in Muslim-majority provinces before the partition of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan.  His Grace, Lawrence Saldanha, the Catholic Archbishop of Lahore, is a distant cousin. 







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