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House in Sindh Province Pakistan

(Photo credit: Institute on Religion and Democracy)

By Faith McDonnell (@Cuchulain09)

This week I was a guest on Secure Freedom Radio, which you can hear at www.securefreedomradio.org, to talk about the persecution of Christians in Pakistan.

Recently a young Christian girl named Rimsha Masih was accused of blasphemy under Pakistan’s egregious blasphemy laws. Thankfully, her case was overturned – particularly when it was discovered that her accuser had actually planted evidence himself in order to turn the whole community against the Christians. But this law hangs like a sword over the heads of Pakistan’s Christians who know that they could be accused of blasphemy at any moment.

One Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was accused on this charge in 2009. The 45 year-old mother of five was sentenced to death in 2010 and remains on death row today. Only continued pressure from the international community will save her. In January 2013, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Italy directed the Italian Embassy in Islamabad to make an appeal on her behalf for Pakistan to revoke the sentence and allow Bibi and her family to leave the country. More such international efforts would ensure victory.

Many Pakistani Christians suffer from grinding poverty. Education and employment discrimination leave them only the lowliest occupations. Many Pakistani Christians spend their lives in brickyards, within perilous distance of blazing hot kilns. These families are close to being slaves – bonded laborers – never able to work off the outrageous debts laid on them by Muslim landlords. Others find work as janitors or sewer workers. Sewer workers are forced to risk their lives on a regular basis by their Muslim employers who see this as a way to demonstrate the supremacy of Islam. They barely regard their Christian employees as human. Christian sanitation workers are the first ones sent into sewer trench lines, and usually without proper protection. Every year Christian workers die from exposure to the toxic fumes.

In the major city Karachi in the southern province of Sindh, Christians increasingly face a new threat – the “Talibanization” of Karachi. Afghani and Pakistani Pashtun Taliban militants have flooded Pakistan’s largest city for the last few years. They cause problems for all, but especially for the impoverished minority Christian community. Fleeing from military offenses against the Taliban in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan, the militants use Karachi’s slum neighborhoods to regroup and raise funds. But they also take the opportunity to attack Karachi’s Christian poor who live in these same slums.

The U.S. government funds seem directed to the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt and to supporting the rise of Islamic militants to power in Libya and Syria. Even when U.S. aid is given to Pakistan, such as during the devastating floods in the recent past, none ever reach the beleaguered Christian community. And sad to say, even the Christian human rights groups working in Pakistan seem to focus on Punjab Province and forget that there is also a Christian community further south in Sindh.

IRD is trying to raise awareness of the plight of these poor Christian families, and find ways to help them. For instance, we recently sponsored a “measles camp” for the children of poor Christian families in Sindh province to receive measles vaccines that they would not otherwise be able to receive. This has to be done in a secret, protected location, too, because the Taliban and other Islamists often kill the health workers who provide vaccines.

Sharing the stories told by Christian human rights advocates in Karachi, we hope to encourage American church members to help these Pakistani Christians. For instance, the wall surrounding the house of one Christian woman was broken down by Islamists. Through intimidation and harassment of the woman and her two teenage daughters, these Islamists hope to either run her out of her house so they can take the property, or to abduct the two girls – a phenomenon that is taking place throughout the Islam-dominated parts of the world. Her wall must be repaired to keep her and her daughters safe. That is just one example. The needs are great, but a relatively little amount in U.S. dollars goes a long way in Pakistan. I pray that American Christians will show they care for these suffering brothers and sisters.

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