Bahai News -- Christians besieged in Pakistan

Christians besieged in Pakistan

By Julia Duin
THE WASHINGTON TIMES


    The photos from Pakistan were anything but travel brochure material.
    One showed a 9-year-old girl with dark eyes, large black burns on her legs and a heavily bandaged right arm.
    Another showed a 14-year-old girl with a face partly melted away like candle wax. The right side was a mass of charred skin after an assailant threw acid into her eyes.
    Their attackers said the girls' injuries are payback for the American invasion of Iraq. Americans may not have seen much retaliation on their own soil because, several human rights groups say, Christians in Pakistan are taking the brunt of it.
    The 9-year-old, Razia Masih, was beaten and raped on April 26 in the town of Faisalabad, near Lahore, ending up in the hospital with multiple burns, a lacerated left eye, a broken right arm and rope marks around her hands and mouth.
    "She was working as a maid in a Muslim house," said Shabazz Bhatti, chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance.
    "When the Iraq war happened, it was on the TV," he said. "The family [that she worked for] would call her into the TV room and start torturing her. Her skin was burned by the irons, her body wounded by a cricket bat and a medical report showed 15 wounds on her body. She was told by them, 'You are Christian and infidel, and we will take revenge on you for the killings of Iraqi children.'
    "The case has been registered [with police], but the culprits have not been arrested. Meanwhile, the girl's family has fled elsewhere, just to save their lives. The government authorities are not giving them protection."
    According to International Christian Concern (ICC), a religious-persecution watchdog group, the girl's family had unsuccessfully tried to get her out of her employers' home several times. After beating and burning her for a final time, the family sent her home to die.
    The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, representing Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Balmeek, Bheel, Maingwal, Zoarastrian, Bahai and Kelash communities, has compiled a "catalogue of terror" on attacks against female Christians, beginning with the May 3, 2000, gang rape of eight Christian girls by militant Muslims near Lahore.
    A series of either gang rapes or acid-in-the-face attacks happened in July 2000, twice in 2001, twice in 2002 and three times so far in 2003.
    On March 31, Natasha Emmanuel, 10, from a town near Rawalpindi, was raped by a Muslim neighbor linked with extremist Islamic organizations. The girl ended up in a hospital intensive-care unit for three days, the ICC says.
    "Christians in Pakistan are increasingly vulnerable to religiously motivated hate crimes, and Christian girls and women seem to be specially targeted," said Stuart Windsor, director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide in London. "We are outraged by the unwillingness of the police to investigate the complaints as this only emboldens extremists to continue to victimize Christians and other non-Muslims."
    Fearing such reprisals, the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom wrote Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on March 19, asking him to remind foreign governments of their responsibility to protect religious minorities.
    "The commission is concerned that extremists have tried to portray military action against Iraq as part of an alleged U.S. attack on Islam," they wrote, "and that retribution will be sought against Christians, Jews and others throughout the Islamic world ...."
    The commission also asked President Bush to bring up the matter with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf during their meeting Tuesday at Camp David, Md.
    "Since the U.S. military action began in Afghanistan," they wrote last week, "Christian institutions in Pakistan repeatedly have been targeted by religious extremists, resulting in over 50 deaths."
    But neither President Bush or Gen. Musharraf mentioned religious minorities at a Tuesday press conference to announce a $3 billion U.S. military and economic aid package for Pakistan.
    "The Bush administration has with this package applauded Pakistan for carrying out egregious human rights abuses and religious-freedom violations," said Joseph Grieboski, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy.
    "President Bush told the world that the United States will turn a blind eye to universal values and fundamental freedoms in exchange for political expediency and convenience."
    There are only about 3 million Christians among Pakistan's 140 million citizens.
    Gen. Musharraf said Wednesday he knew nothing of the recent attacks on Christian women and denied there is an ongoing problem.
    "All the people involved in attacks have been eliminated or put behind bars," he said at a meeting sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace. "There has not been an attack in the last year against a Christian minority."
    Mr. Grieboski said Gen. Musharraf was either uninformed or lying.
    "He gives a speech about Islam being a moderate religion every time he panders to the West," Mr. Grieboski said. "But there's an ongoing targeting of Christians in general, with women being raped and men beaten and arrested. The government has yet to do anything to protect the rights of minority religious believers, whether they be Christian, Ahmadi Muslim, Hindu or any other faith."
    The plight of Christian women is entangled with the politics of rape in Pakistan, which has engaged human rights and women's groups for years. There is no category for rape in Pakistani law; only for "zina," which is either adultery or fornication. Unless four male Muslim witnesses can be found to back the woman's story or if the attacker denies the charges, the woman is blamed and usually jailed on charges of illicit sex.
    According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a woman in that country is raped every six hours and another is gang-raped every fourth day. Since women often do not report rape in the country, the actual numbers are likely to be far higher.
    Since September 11, Pakistan's government has stepped up its security measures for Christians, providing extra armed guards for churches and other Christian buildings after a series of bomb and grenade attacks on churches, foreign tourists and western embassies killed 40 persons and injured dozens more. On Sept. 29, 2002, two gunmen broke into the offices of a Christian charity in Karachi, killing seven Christians and seriously wounding two others. On Christmas Day 2002, three girls were killed and 17 persons injured when masked terrorists threw hand grenades into their Presbyterian church in Punjab province.
    Christians are being accused of transgressing Pakistan's blasphemy law, where to criticize the Prophet Muhammed by word, deed or imputation is a capital crime. However, Gen. Musharraf said the law has not targeted Christians in particular.
    "Under this blasphemy law, more Muslims have been acted against than non-Muslims," he said. "Secondly, no capital punishment at all till now has been given on the basis of blasphemy."
    But there are long jail sentences on trumped-up charges. One Christian, Aslam Masih, imprisoned since 1998 on blasphemy charges, was recently acquitted. Mr. Masih, a local pronunciation of Messiah, is a common family name among Christians in Pakistan, which recently required people to have a given and family name; until then, many rural villagers went through life with a single name.
    Two other Christians, brothers Saleem and Rasheed Masih, were acquitted in March 1999 of blasphemy charges stemming from a dispute with an ice cream vendor in the Pasrur region in northeast Pakistan.
    But while Saleem Masih was in prison, his wife was raped in July 2000.
    "The police refused to investigate it," said Ann Buwalda, director of the Jubilee Campaign in Fairfax. "Most people feel it was connected to the case of her husband."
     She is trying to get all three men and their families out of the country.
    "As long as they stay there," she said, "it's open season on them by any radical Muslim."

©Copyright 2003, The Washington Times (Washington, DC, USA)

Following is the URL to the original story. The site may have removed or archived this story. URL: http://washingtontimes.com/world/20030627-092413-5203r.htm


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