Date:  February 19, 2021

By ICC’s Pakistan Correspondent

Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The last six months of 2020 proved to be another challenging time for Christians in Pakistan. Despite the PTI-led government’s lofty claims, the country’s Christian community continued to suffer discrimination, intolerance, and instances of outright persecution.

International Christian Concern (ICC) documented at least 38 incidents of persecution against Pakistan’s Christian population between July 1 and December 31, 2020. The reported incidents included discrimination, sexual assaults, abductions, forced conversions, forced marriages, blasphemy accusations, and even murder.

Blasphemy Accusations and Updates

Over the second half of 2020, ICC documented at least six blasphemy incidents. As a result of these incidents, eleven Christians were accused of committing blasphemy against Islam and its holy personages.

Among the Christians accused of blasphemy was Arshad Masih, a Christian factory worker from Sheikhupura. On December 14, Arshad was stabbed to death by Atif Ali, his Muslim coworker at Pakistan Spring Factory.

After the attack, Ali claimed he had killed a kafir, infidel, and blasphemer. When he was arrested, Ali asked the arresting officers if he could wash his hands as “he did not want the blood of a blasphemer on his hands anymore.”

“he did not want the blood of a blasphemer on his hands anymore.”

Samina Bibi, Arshad’s wife, reports that Ali attacked her husband due to a promotion Arshad received and his refusal to convert to Islam. Arshad’s widow suspects that Ali attacked her husband because he refused to convert to Islam.

On August 30, police arrested David Masih, a Christian from Risalpure, located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. David was charged with committing blasphemy under Section 295-B of Pakistan’s Penal Code for allegedly throwing copies of the Quran in the drainage line.

On November 23, four Christian sanitary workers were accused of committing blasphemy in Lahore. A Muslim cleric accused the Christians of collecting garbage in a bag decorated with a photo of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. They were in police custody until declared innocent after an investigation on November 28.

In addition to new accusations, ICC also noted several high-profile blasphemy cases against Christians being resolved in the second half of 2020.

In October 2020, the Lahore High Court acquitted Sawan Masih; a Christian sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws in March 2014. Sawan was accused by his Muslim friend, Muhammad Shahid, of insulting the Prophet Muhammad during a conversation in March 2013.

In December 2020, Imran Masih, a Christian sentenced to life imprisonment under the blasphemy laws in January 2010, was also acquitted and released. Imran’s situation changed very little for more than ten years after his conviction. After a hearing in September 2015, Imran’s appeal to the Lahore High Court was repeatedly delayed until December 10, 2020, when he was finally acquitted.

Forced Marriage and Forced Conversion

Abductions, sexual assaults, forced conversions and forced marriages also continued to affect Pakistan’s Christian community in the second half of 2020. ICC documented at least seven instances in which Christian women and girls were abducted, forcefully married, and forcefully converted to Islam between July and December.

The abduction, forced conversion, and forced marriage of Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl from Karachi, made international headlines and exemplified the abuse faced by Pakistan’s Christian community.

On October 13, Arzoo was allegedly abducted from her family home in Karachi by Ali Azhar, her 44-year-old Muslim neighbor. Arzoo’s parents reported the incident to local police and were informed two days later that their daughter had converted to Islam and married Azhar.

Arzoo’s parents challenged the marriage’s validity, claiming it violated the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. However, on October 27, the court ruled in favor of the marriage and ordered local police to protect Arzoo and Azhar.

On November 2, police were ordered by the High Court in Sindh to recover Arzoo and arrest Azhar. This came after Pakistan’s Minister for Human Rights became involved in the case as an intervener. Arzoo was taken to a women’s shelter, and Azhar was arrested.

On November 9, the High Court in Sindh ruled that Arzoo was a minor and that her marriage to Azhar violated the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. Arzoo returned to the women’s shelter after she refused to reunite with her family and insisted that she had freely chosen to marry Azhar.

On November 23, the High Court in Sindh ordered that Arzoo remains in the government shelter home until she becomes an adult.

According to the Open Doors USA World Watch List, Pakistan is ranked the fifth most dangerous country to be a Christian. Unfortunately, the intolerance, discrimination, and outright persecution documented by ICC in the second six months of 2020 only support Pakistan’s ranking among the worst persecutors of Christians.

HOW TO PRAY: Pray for the safety of Christians who experience attacks, false accusations, and discrimination in Pakistan. Pray for religious freedom in Pakistan. Pray for the families of murdered believers.