Refugee status sought for Pakistani Christians
The head of a Christian congress in Pakistan announced recently that he will send an appeal to the United Nations to allow refugee status for Pakistani Christians because they do not feel safe in their own country.
Dr. Nazir S. Bhatti, chief of Pakistan Christian Congress, said the PCC is demanding that the Pakistani government opens its borders so that Christians may flee to bordering countries such as Afghanistan, India and China.
“The Christians in Pakistan do not feel safe, and they want to flee for the safety of their lives. We are asking that they be given refugee status,” Bhatti told the Pakistan Christian Post.
Bhatti said this will continue to be necessary unless the blasphemy law is repealed. He also said the Federal Minority Ministry must be restored, and there should be an end to kidnapping and enforced conversion of Christian women to Islam so that they can be married to influential Muslims against their will.
Kidnapping, forced conversion
The number of kidnappings, forced conversion to Islam and gang rape of Christian women has doubled in the year 2010-2011.
An example is the incident of nursing student Farah Hatim, 24, a Catholic girl who was kidnapped last May 7, by Muslim Zeeshan Iliyas and his brothers, Gulfam and and Ulran.
Hatim, who lives in south Punjab where most incidents of Christian persecution occur, was forced to convert to Islam so that she could forcibly marry her abductor.
Hatim’s abductors threatened to kill her family if she failed to cooperate. When her family tried to file a report of her abduction before Superintendent Police Ashfaq Guijar and SHO city Nazir Shah, they were threatened and the police refused to file the case.
The case was only registered after some 400 Christians protested in front of the police office. As the Justice and Peace Commission brought the case to court, the police constantly threatened Hatim’s family.
The case was then raised to the Supreme Court. On July 20, for the first time, Hatim saw her family. When she was asked if she went with her Muslim abductor freely, she wept and said, “Of my own will,” to protect her family.
After the proceedings she was granted a few minutes to meet with her family. Her brother told Asia News, “I am shocked … she was threatened … Why us? Why do we have to deal with it? Just because we are Christians?”
The Committee for Justice and Peace told Asia News, “Farah has become a victim of the prostitution racket. Zeeshan Iiyas tried to push her into prostitution when she was still a student at Sheikh Zaid Medical College, Rahim Yar Khan, but she refused. Zeehan Iiyas then took revenge.”
Farah is also fearful because she became pregnant after she was raped and she fears that if she tries to return to her community she will be rejected and her family will be killed.
In a separate incident, two Christian siblings were kidnapped by a band hired by a wealthy Muslim, and forced to convert to Islam. One of them was then forced to marry the rich Muslim.
Rebecca Masih and her sister Saima Masih were abducted by businessman Muhammad Wassem last May 24 in Faisalabad district. Waseem then forced Saima to marry him. Extremist group leader Muhammad Zubair Qasim was present. His band, Sip-e-Sahaba, specializes in kidnapping and forced conversions.
According to the Justice and Peace Commission, “thousands of girls from minority communities are kidnapped and forced to marry Muslims. We are fighting against the cancer of abductions and forced marriages,” Asia News reported.
The Catholic church has also condemned such acts, as have human rights organizations. Hatim’s family is appealing for action, or laws against the practice of abduction, forced conversion and marriage.
However, such acts prevail largely because of the blasphemy law which is often abused as pretext for this, as well as destruction of Christian homes, arrest and murder of Christians including women and children.
Courts are not mediums for true justice for Christians. Even government officials are not spared, including Shahbaz Bhatti, Christian Federal Minister who was gunned down in Islamabad. The Federal Minority Ministry has also been dissolved.
Dr. Nazir S. Bhatti of the PCC said because equal rights for minorities is not possible in Pakistan, the alternative he seeks is refugee status for its Christians.