PERSECU ION International Christian Concern | October 2013
pakistanâ€™s scarlet letter for christians In June 2013, William Stark, ICCâ€™s Regional Manager for South Asia, traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to document first-hand the challenges Christians in these countries face. During his time abroad, Stark was able to meet with and interview Christians whose lives have been radically altered by persecution. Blasphemy, apostasy, discrimination, forced conversion and forced marriage are just a couple of the challenges these persecuted brothers and sisters endure because of their faith in Jesus Christ. All articles in this issue were written by William Stark.
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“He said a friend will meet us here and then take us to where they are hiding,” our driver told me as we sat waiting in a van baking in Pakistan’s summer heat. With the air conditioner blasting, we were on edge as we prepared to meet with the first of several Christian families whose lives have been forever changed by Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law. According to Section 295 of Pakistan’s Penal Code, defiling a Quran, defaming the Prophet Muhammad and upsetting religious feelings is illegal; in the case of defaming the Prophet, it results in a death sentence. Beyond the legal charges, there are social consequences that are almost as, if not more, serious. Once a Christian has been accused of blasphemy—falsely or not—that accusation follows them around for the rest of his or her life. Forced to live a life in hiding, Christians accused of blasphemy fear the possibility of being identified as a blasphemer by hard-liners within Pakistan’s Muslim population and being beaten or even killed. After several minutes of idling in the van, we saw a young man appear from around the corner and quickly knock on our sliding door. “This is him,” our driver said. After a brief exchange between our driver and our new passenger, we began moving.
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“He and his family are very close,” our new passenger said. After several minutes of driving through streets much too skinny for the van we were riding in, we pulled in front of a very unassuming house. The gate cracked open and a woman appeared. “This is it,” our passenger said, as he opened the sliding door. We quickly and discretely entered the house. As soon as all of us had exited the van, our driver pulled away in order to avoid bringing any unwanted attention to our new location.
unsafe to go outside Once inside, I was greeted by the family of Paul Masih (name changed for security), the first Christian blasphemy victim I was to meet that day. “He is in the bedroom,” a family member told me. “We never let him go outside, it’s not safe for him,” she explained. As everyone squeezed into the home’s only bedroom, I found myself sitting across from the man I had been looking for all morning. Tall, skinny and in his mid-20s, Paul wore a look of exhaustion and desperation that revealed the physical and emotional toll that comes with being an accused blasphemer in Pakistan. After brief introductions, Paul began to tell the story of how he became an accused blasphemer. “I owned a shop where I used to sell electronic parts,” Paul began. “Mr. X [name hidden], another Muslim shopkeeper, would tell me every Friday that I had to attend Friday prayers at the mosque with him. “One day, while I was away from the shop, Mr. X posted a sign on my shop that had an Islamic verse on it. I can’t read Arabic, so I didn’t know what the sign said. When I tried to remove it, it ripped.” Upon seeing the ripped sign, Mr. X accused Paul of offending the Prophet and defiling the Quran. Mr. X reported the incident to a local mosque where the imam gathered a mob and declared Paul’s actions as blasphemy. “The mob attacked my shop and destroyed almost everything,” Paul said. “I am fortunate I was not at the shop. They would have attacked me.”
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S O U T HAESAI SAT A S I A
Now an accused blasphemer, Paul was forced to flee his hometown and hide in another city or else risk further attack from the Muslim hardliners who destroyed his shop. “After two months [in hiding], someone recognized me. He gathered others and they beat me severely with sticks because they knew I was accused of blasphemy. That is when I came back home,” Paul explained. “Since then, I have not been able to go outside because I will be attacked if someone recognizes me as a ‘blasphemer.’”
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The constant stress associated with being accused of blasphemy not only affects the accused, it also affects every member of the accused’s family. This is true of Paul’s family. Beyond the loss of Paul’s income, his family is constantly concerned for his safety, wondering each day if he will be discovered and killed. To top this off, the entire family is targeted by local Muslim hard-liners for being related to an accused blasphemer.
After concluding my interview with Paul and his family, I made my way to the next interview. As we drove, I reflected upon the long-term suffering Paul and his family will face. This journey of suffering was perfectly illustrated by Asif (name changed), the next Christian blasphemy victim I met. Again, we repeated the process of insuring the safety of the Christian blasphemy victim. After a couple of phone calls and several minutes of idling, we pulled up to an alleyway where a man wearing a scarf over his face stood. The man opened the van door and hopped in. After removing his scarf, he introduced himself as Asif. When Paul took down the poster, a corner piece ripped. He was accused of blasphemy for defiling a Quranic verse.
As we drove, Asif, wearing the same look of exhaustion and desperation 4
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a decade of separation Asif, a blasphemy victim, with his family, whom he has lived apart from since his accusation 11 years ago.
I had seen on Paul earlier that day, began telling me about how he became accused of blasphemy. “In 1998, a Christian advocate named Bishop John Joseph committed suicide in front of a high court building, protesting the abuse of Christians by Muslim hard-liners using Pakistan’s blasphemy laws,” Asif said. “That protest caused a lot of backlash against the Christian community and many were accused of blasphemy shortly after Joseph’s death.” Asif was among those Christians accused of blasphemy. Before his life was radically altered by the blasphemy accusation leveled against him, Asif ran a successful welding business. “Everything was going very well,” Asif said. Tensions between the Christian and Muslim communities in his area became very strained after Joseph’s suicide. It got so bad that Muslims were demanding the Christians pack up their bags and leave. Days after the suicide, Asif was accused by a neighbor of throwing stones at a billboard that had Islamic verses on it. Because tensions were so high, this seemingly simple offense was dealt with immediately by the Pakistani authorities. As a result, and with little evidence shown against him, Asif was sentenced to seven years in prison. In 2002, after serving four years of his sentence, Asif was released from You can help today! 800-ICC-5441
S O U T HAESAI SAT A S I A
prison. Like all Christian blasphemy victims, his release from prison was only a partial release.
“because people know i have been imprisoned for blasphemy, it is unsafe for me and my family to live together.” -asif, a blasphemy victim began to cry.
“Because people know I have been imprisoned for blasphemy, it is unsafe for me and my family to live together,” Asif told me as we drove. “To keep my family safe, I have been hiding and working in a Christian community in another city. The little money I receive from daily labor, I send home to support my family.” The van stopped in front of another house and all of us, including Asif once again donning his scarf, got out and entered the home. Inside was Asif’s family, who had not seen him for months. When Asif removed his scarf, his children ran to him and his wife and sister
Since his last visit, one of Asif’s younger sisters had died. Asif was unable to attend the funeral due to the risk of being recognized. “[Extremists] could have been at the funeral looking for me,” Asif told me. For the past 11 years, the lives of Asif and his family have been separated due to the lasting social consequences of being labeled a blasphemer in Pakistan.
the broader tragedy I personally met with 10 blasphemy victims while in Pakistan. One of the more tragic aspects of all of these cases was that all of these Christians were innocent of the charges against them. According to many human rights experts, including the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are all too often used to target rivals, settle personal vendettas and abuse religious minorities. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are usually used to target Christian minori6
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ties. For example, a Christian business owner being accused of blasphemy by a Muslim competitor in order to take competition out of the market is not an uncommon occurrence. Accused Christian blasphemers, like Paul and Asif, will continue to live lives of constant fear and hiding. By extension, their families will suffer ridicule and sometimes outright hostility due to their relation to a “blasphemer.” Because the abuse of blasphemy laws goes unpunished by authorities, stories like Paul’s and Asif’s will likely grow in number causing more Christian families in Pakistan to live lives of fear and hiding. As my flight home taxied onto the runway for takeoff, I started to page through the interview notes I had taken while in Pakistan. As I read the names of all the victims I had interviewed, I was shocked by the number of blasphemy victims. Remembering the life of hiding and fear each of the victims was now forced to live, I reflected upon the often unsung and unacknowledged blessing of the freedom of religion. As the plane took off, I said a prayer for all of those victims and their families who will forever be forced to live in the shadow of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. ICC is giving blasphemy victims a chance at a new life by providing relocation and temporary support, as well as the means to support themselves going forward. If you would like to free one of these families from their unseen prison, please make a special donation to “Hand of Hope: South Asia” for “Blasphemy Victims.” The total cost for the rescue of one family is $2,500. By supporting a family entirely, you will receive a full report on their rescue as well as a letter of thanks from their family to yours.
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N OT E F RO M T H E P R E S I D E N T:
“(THE SCARLET LETTER) HAD THE EFFECT OF A SPELL, TAKING HER OUT OF THE ORDINARY RELATIONS WITH HUMANITY, AND ENCLOSING HER IN A SPHERE BY HERSELF.” NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE, THE SCARLET LETTER
Jeff King, President International Christian Concern
In Pakistan, if you are a Christian and have been accused of blasphemy, you will wear a figurative scarlet “B” pinned to your clothes. This branding will not be removed for the rest of your life and will mean that you will be killed, spend your life in prison, or live a hunted existence outside of prison. If you live, you will always be looking over your shoulder for your next beating or wondering when the darkness will reach out and swallow you. ICC is working with blasphemy victims or their families in Pakistan. Some have been charged or convicted; others, like “Paul” (Pakistan’s Scarlet Letter for Christians), live in their prison without bars. Some are high profile cases that receive attention and aid, but most suffer in anonymity.
These are the cases (individuals and families) we love to help. They are astonished that God can help them by connecting Christians like you with them, from the other side of the world. This is the work of Jesus and we are humbled when we can play just a part in it. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” Luke 4:18 (NIV). Please join Him in His work.
“WE FEEL LIKE THE WHOLE WORLD WANTS TO SEE THE CHRISTIANS OF SYRIA SLAUGHTERED!” Refugee camps
Help us Bring Relief to Syrian Refugees! R E C E N T LY, A S YR I A N C H R I S T I A N S E N T I CC T H E F O L LO W I N G N OT E :
“As Syrian Christians, we used to live in peace under Assad. Assad is not a perfect man, yet he gave the Christians freedom and rights the same as Muslims. We could wear what we wanted and we had churches all over the country. “Then when the uprising started, we began to see many Islamist jihadists from Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. They began to kill us (the Christians) and other minorities who are considered infidels. The Islamists killed us with knives and even decapitated some and burned down our churches. “Now, Christians are not welcome under their Islamist rule. No Western country will give us visas. Many times, we feel like the whole world, want to see the Christians of Syria slaughtered!” Since the civil war in Syria began, Christians have increasingly suffered attacks from radical Islamists. ICC receives reports of murders, rapes, and other atrocities committed against Syrian Christians on a daily basis!
In the past 18 months, a staggering 2 million Syrians have fled their country to seek refuge in neighboring countries. Syrian Christian leaders are asking for our help for those Christians who have fled. Unable to work, they are desperate. Help is necessary to sustain the families and very little aid has come to them so far. We are working directly with churches on the ground to provide the basic needs of food and shelter, so that children and families can stay intact and healthy. To meet the need, we are partnering with other Christian groups to provide food for these Christians.
We are committed to feed 1,000 individuals for one month as our part of the partnership, but need your help.
$45 will feed one Christian for a month $225 will provide food for an entire family for a month $4,500 will feed 100 Syrian Christians for a month
The great news is that ICC will match anything you give towards these Christians, dollar for dollar. If you give $50, we will pitch in $50. If you give $100, we will pitch in $100 making your gift $200, effectively doubling your gift. We will do this for the first $10,000 donated. Would you join us today as we provide care for those who are fleeing Syria? As always, we will use your gifts efficiently, ethically, and effectively, to assist the Christians victimized by this civil war. I promise!