Christian Persecution of Presbyterian Church in Pakistan
Stories of Christian Persecution Here and around the World
Shaken and still feeling the effects from an attack on their service, Numseoul Presbyterian Church publicly forgave the men who attacked them on Wednesday, June 1, 2011. Armed with guns, the nephew of a former legislator, Muhammad Shoaib, and four other men disrupted the church service three days earlier. “They were just out of control,” Pastor Ashraf Masih told Compass Direct News. “Shoaib and his men broke the glass altar of the church, threw copies of the Bible towards the wall and desecrated the cross.” The gang also beat three elderly Christians with bamboo sticks.
The attackers cursed the congregation for disrupting the peace by worshipping on loudspeakers, Masih said. However, the church uses loudspeakers only inside the church building, located in a rural area outside Lahore. “The loudspeakers on mosques are used all day long for prayers and sermons,” he said. “I fail to understand why this man has turned against us in the last few months.”
After the gang left, Masih called the police and showed officers the damage. The Christians then went to the police station to register their complaint. Masih said the police were reluctant at first to register a First Information Report against Shoaib, and they accused the congregation of making false allegations. Masih told police that his colleagues had witnessed the attacks, journalists had photographed the site and the local Christians would hold public protests if the officers did not register the case.
After an hour long negotiation among Christian representatives, police and Shoaib’s family, the group agreed that Shoaib would publicly apologize. A Release partner said that the church’s act of forgiveness was more powerful than revenge — a strong statement in a country whose blasphemy laws are widely abused to persecute Christians. “The gang committed blasphemy against these Christians but we can give an example of forgiveness and show how we can be peaceful. In this light, we are showing that they can forgive people like Asia Bibi and show their courage.”
Pakistan began as an Islamic republic who promised religious freedom to minorities. Initially, the Pakistani government adopted policies that permitted religious minorities to freely practice their faith, but Islamic groups and politicians took advantage of the constitution’s ambiguity, turning Pakistan into a purely Islamic state. As a result, Christians and other religious minority groups often face discrimination and violence.
Under “Offenses Relating to Religion” section 295 of Pakistan’s criminal code, commonly known as the blasphemy laws, are often used to prosecute Christians. The law states, “Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, … with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons …. shall be punished.” Section 295a says no one may outrage the feelings of any religious group with deliberate and malicious intent. Under section 295b, destroying or defiling a Quran is punishable by life in prison, and section 295c demands life in prison or death for anyone who insults the prophet Mohammed.
Under Pakistani law, police can make arrests based on a single complaint and without a warrant. Asia Bibi, the first woman to be sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws, was arrested in 2009 for blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed and later sentenced to death. In spite of multiple appeals and international outcry, she remains on death row.