Refuge may elude those escaping from religious persecution in Pakistan.
One Pakistani Christian who fled in 1999 has spent over five years in immigration detention in Australia. In Pakistan, his wife and children had been taken from him (with the complicity of local police) until he renounced his faith and converted to Islam.
His subsequent return to Christianity angered the Muslim community. A fatwa issued against him forced the family into hiding. He subsequently went to Indonesia for work and then sought asylum in Australia.
Now, after five years in detention he faces deportation because the authorities do not consider him to be at risk of persecution. As the September 2004 judgment stated, “The Tribunal is not satisfied that anyone [in Pakistan] would take claims… about him being an apostate seriously… because he is so obviously Christian.”
He awaits the verdict on his final appeal made in February 2005.
Pakistani Christians are extremely vulnerable to suffering persecution due to the widespread Islamic intolerance of Christians, the discriminatory sharia (Islamic law), the endemic lawlessness and corruption (including the police force) and the impunity granted to persecutors.
On 28 November 2004 a Muslim named Ahmed Ali (26) attacked a Christian shop-keeper, Shahbaz Masih (22) with a butcher’s axe, severing his left arm. Ahmed Ali was arrested only after church authorities pressed the case. Though he is currently imprisoned in Faisalbad, local police are under intense pressure to whitewash the case and free him.
After four days in hospital Shahbaz and his mother have left everything and fled for their lives.
Hanifan Bibi (55) is a Christian mother who worked as a domestic servant for a Muslim family. On 10 January 2005 her employer’s husband and several of his friends broke into the family’s home in Lahore and kidnapped Mrs Hanifan, along with her husband, son and nephew. She was then stripped, sexually humiliated and tortured in front of her family, with the perpetrators filming the attack.
The kidnappers then handed Mrs Hanifan over to police and had her charged with theft. Both she and her son were later hospitalized due to their injuries.
The family believes the attack was revenge for Mrs Hanifan’s refusal to provide the Muslim men with Christian women for sex. (Muslim men are not permitted to defile Muslim women.)
Bashir Masih (30), a Christian, was arrested in August 2004 in Bahawalnagar charged with blasphemy for allegedly desecrating a copy of the Koran. On 23 February he was sentenced to seven years’ jail and now has 30 days to launch an appeal to the High Court in Lahore.
He allegedly “confessed” to the “crime”, but there are concerns over how such a “confession” may have been extracted as torture is endemic.
Nasir Masih and Samuel Masih were two Christians who died from police torture after being accused of blasphemy.
Under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws a person may be detained on the testimony of one accuser. Once detained, there is immense pressure in Muslim society to secure a conviction.
Christians accused of blasphemy are at risk from the moment they are accused, so even the threat of being accused will terrify a Christian. Any Muslim who so desires can manipulate this situation for personal gain or to satisfy their own hatred.
According to Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister, Ejaz ul-Haq, more than 4000 blasphemy cases have been recorded since 1986.
Source: Religious Liberty Commission. First published in New Life (www.nlife.com.au) and republished by permission.