By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A representative of the Pakistani Bishops’ Conference is calling on the United States to raise the issue of human rights violations against Christians, which cause many to be treated no better than animals, during the summit currently underway between Washington and Pakistani leaders.
Accorrding to a report by Agenzia Fides, Fr. John Shakir Nadeem, Secretary of the Commission for Social Communications of the Pakistani Bishops’ Conference, says the persecution of Christians is worsening along with the growing Islamization of Pakistan.
“In Pakistan, Christians suffer and see their lives in danger every day. In some areas, believers are treated like animals, in slavery or subjected to harassment, violence, and forced conversions,” he said.
This persecution is facilitated by the growth of fundamentalist groups and a weak government that is prone to blackmail by extremists.
Large numbers of Christians are being forced to convert to Islam, he said, much higher than the official government statistics of 50 cases of forced conversion in the past nine years. These cases tend to be under-reported because Christians fear retaliation.
Fr. Nadeem’s testimony comes on the heels of a horrific attack on a Christian couple with three young children who were attacked by Muslim extremists last Friday in Rawalpindi for refusing to convert. With their three young children looking on, the wife was raped and her husband set on fire, suffering burns to 80 percent of his body.
In addition to these brutalities, there is also a widespread phenomenon of kidnapping of Christian girls, Fr. Nadeem said. “Their abduction is followed by conversion and forced marriage. It is a stigma that many NGOs [U.N. non-governmental organizations] denounce in the face of the indifference of the authorities.”
He also said the persecution varies between urban and rural areas. “Christians in the city – even in a general context of discrimination – live together in neighborhoods called ‘colonies.’ They have access to education, social services, to work. 30 percent of the Christian population can also make their way in society, even though here we are exposed to terrorist attacks against churches and Christian areas.
“In remote villages, rural areas, the situation is very different,” he told Fides. “Small Christian groups, often poor, marginalized, and illiterate, suffer the oppression of the Muslim majority and are under the rule of others who make their profit by bullying, to rape, slavery, murder. Christians are often subject to false accusations of blasphemy, to threats of conversion, violence against women, property and possessions.”
Fr. Nadeem believes the only solution to these problems, is “the real democratization of the country, which would guarantee human rights for all. This is why there is an urgent need for international pressure.”
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