The horrific persecution of Christians in Pakistan—whether at the hands of judges and police, or mobs and rapist gangs—continues to worsen, as evidenced by the last, fully documented month, that of May, 2023.
Most notably, on May 30, a Pakistani court sentenced Noman Masih, a 22-year-old Christian man, to death for “blasphemy” (in keeping with Section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes, which calls for the death penalty for anyone convicted of insulting Muhammad, the prophet of Islam).
Immediately following the sentencing, the accused’s lawyer, Lazar Allah Rakha, said:
I’m extremely disappointed by the conviction, because there was absolutely no case. There was no proof against Noman, and none of the witnesses produced by police could corroborate the blasphemy allegation against him… Despite so many contradictions in the case, I’m at a loss to understand why Bahawalpur Additional Sessions Judge Muhammad Hafeez Ur Rehman sentenced Noman instead of acquitting him. This is murder of justice.
Noman was initially arrested four years earlier, in 2019, on “secret information” by police that he had printed insulting images of Muhammad and was randomly showing them to people. However, according to his father, sanitation worker Asghar Masih, “The allegations … are baseless. Noman was sleeping in the house when he was arrested, but the police have alleged that he was in a park showing blasphemous images to 9-10 people at 3:30 a.m.”
The past four years have been very draining for the family, the father added, both emotionally and financially: “Noman’s mother and I yearn for him every day… Our hearts broke today when our counsel informed us about the death verdict. But our faith in Christ has not waivered, and we trust God that He will rescue us from this suffering.”
A few days before this death sentencing, on May 18, Zahid Sohail, a Muslim police constable who was on his way to mosque prayers claims he overheard his neighbors, two Christian teenage boys, joking around with the name of Muhammad. So he started thrashing the boys, Simon Nadeem Masih, 14, and Adil Masih, 18. According to Adil’s father, Babar, “Sohail initially alleged that he was walking past the two boys when he overheard them ‘disrespecting’ prophet Muhammad and then laughing over it. He started beating Simon, and when Adil tried to save him, Sohail attacked him too.”
Neighbors and passersby soon gathered around. Continues Babar: “Both boys flatly denied Sohail’s allegation and said they had said nothing that involved a mention of the Muslim prophet. When local elders of the neighborhood asked Sohail to substantiate his accusation, he failed to satisfy them and left.”
Later that evening, however, police officers raided Babar’s house and arrested his son, Adil, as well as Simon. They too were jailed on the charge of insulting Muhammad under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes, which calls for the death penalty.
“We were shocked to learn the contents of the First Information Report [FIR] in which Sohail alleged that Simon had called a puppy ‘Muhammad Ali,’ and both boys then joked about it,” said Babar, adding that the allegation is “completely baseless,” as Sohail had made no mention of a puppy when he first raised the issue: “No one in our street has dogs, and neither was there a puppy in the street when this incident took place. Sohail cooked up a false accusation against our children after failing to convince the locals about his earlier allegation.”
The father briefly met his son, Adil, on May 19, when police brought him to court to obtain the boys’ judicial remand: “Both boys were in a state of shock and fear and are still unable to understand why Sohail had gotten them arrested.”
Last reported, Babar Masih had not told his wife, who has a weak heart and already suffered two strokes:
She doesn’t know yet that Adil has been arrested on such a serious charge, and I don’t know how long I’ll be able to withhold this news from her. She’ll be devastated…. [W]e don’t know how long our children will be made to suffer in prison due to this false charge—this is sheer injustice.
According to the report, “Several people have been lynched over false accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan. At least 57 cases of alleged blasphemy were reported in Pakistan between Jan. 1 and May 10 , while four blasphemy suspects were lynched or extrajudicially killed during the same period…”
Responding to this spike in numbers, retired Justice Nasira Javaid Iqbal urged the government to reconsider these draconian laws: “The blasphemy laws have been consistently misused to settle personal disputes, persecute minority groups, and incite mob violence and hatred. We demand prompt action and a collective effort by the government to address these human rights violations.”
Two days before these two Christian teenagers were arrested, on May 16, a Muslim policeman who was hired to protect a Catholic school run by the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary instead attacked the school and murdered two young girls. According to the initial report,
[Officer Alam] Khan who was on duty at the main gate, indiscriminately opened fire at the girls in the school-bus, as they were returning home [from attending school]. During the carnage, Ayesha (5 yrs), was killed and six other girls were left injured… [These girls] sustained a mix of minor and major injuries such as a broken arm to a bullet to the head.
A later report confirmed that a total two girls, the other being 9, were killed in the hail of bullets that Khan sprayed on their van.
Although the murderer, who is known to have a violent past, was arrested, officials already appear committed to exonerating him—on the claim that he acted out of “mental illness.” In the words of one report, “relatives of the victims and supporters of the school are protesting, as the incident has been officially blamed on the ‘mental health’ of the man, without investigating his possible relations with Muslim extremist groups.”
Another related explanation as to “why this horrific terrorist event occurred at the missionary school is due to a hatred of education for women, in radicalised Pakistan. Swat [where the school is located] has faced several anti-women’s education movements in the past, when it was under the stronghold of the Taliban.”
Discussing this incident, Hannah Chowdhry, a Pakistan law student in the UK, said:
This police officer was in position to protect these girls yet harboured extremely radical views. It beggars belief that safeguarding measures failed to pick up how inappropriate his deployment at a school was. The man was known to have mental illness and had two previous violent episodes—I’m sure an investigation will reveal a more sinister extremist background.
In yet another incident to be reported in May, a Muslim family—with the aid of police—beat, tortured, and illegally confined a Christian housecleaner, soon after she tried to resign due to pregnancy.
Over the previous five years, Asma Gulfam, a 28-year-old Catholic maid and mother of four, had worked for Huda Adnan. In early April, Asma notified Huda that she was five months pregnant and could not continue working due to a medical condition. Huda, however, refused to consent. A few days later, on Apr. 18, Huda accused the pregnant Christian woman of stealing 1 million rupees (USD $3,490) which had supposedly been forgotten in a bathroom. When she denied it, Huda dragged Asma into a room where four policemen were waiting.
As soon as they saw me [said Asma], the policemen led by Ijaz [Ahmed, police assistant sub-inspector] started hurling abuses and curses at me. They threatened to tear my clothes if I did not admit to the alleged theft, but when I refused, they pulled my hair and started beating me up mercilessly. During the torture, Ijaz also tried to pull my nails.
During this savage mauling, the pregnant women “began bleeding from the uterus due to the blows to her abdominal area, but the policemen and her employer’s husband continued hitting her”:
I cried and screamed for help, but no one came to rescue me. I have worked in that house for so many years, and not once had the couple accused me of any wrongdoing. I worked very hard and honestly, because for me this was a good testimony of my Christian faith. I was held hostage in Huda’s house all this time [eight days] during which I was repeatedly tortured. My assailants rebuked me for being a Christian and said no one could save me from them …
When her husband, rickshaw driver Gulfam Masih, went to police to report her missing, officers arrested him instead: “They kept him in illegal confinement for a week and released him on April 26, only after my health worsened.”
He rushed her to a hospital, where a medical examination confirmed that she “had been physically abused…. My unborn child’s life was at serious risk due to internal hemorrhaging, but doctors managed to save it.”
As soon as she was able to work, Asma reported her illegal confinement and beating to police, but officers dismissed her complaint without even bothering to question her. Angered that she had the temerity to report them, the Muslim family registered a theft charge against Asma and her husband, which police did take very seriously.
“I can now only appeal to our community leaders and government high-ups to save us and our children from this persecution,” Asma was quoted as last saying.
Discussing Asma’s travails, Imran Sahotra of the Christian Awakening Movement, said
Many poor Christians are victimized through false allegations, including blasphemy, if they choose to discontinue working for their Muslim employers. The pattern is quite similar when you examine such cases…. The Muslim family used its influence to discharge Asma’s complaint against her torture and then registered a false FIR against the couple to ‘teach them a lesson.’ The case shows how the vulnerable Christian community does not have access to justice in Pakistan…. The police officer must be punished, because the poor woman could have lost her unborn child or even died herself due to his torture.
If this is how Muslim authorities in Pakistan behave, it should be no surprise to learn that the general populace persecutes and preys on Christians with total impunity. Two similar stories, also from May, make this clear.
The Muslim men harassed young women and minor boys forcing Naeem Masih and his relatives who were hosting the [wedding] ceremony to ask the paedophiles to leave. The intruders refused to leave, however, and began physically assaulting women and boys; one of them chased a 14 year old boy, Hanook Masih, and bit his bottom. Hanook then slapped the Muslim sexual predator and began to get beaten by several of the Muslim men. At this point it became too much to bear and the Christian men in attendance forcibly removed the Muslim sexual predators from the Church. Some of the men even chose to miss the service to guard the entrance preventing the re-entry of the sexual perverts.
Discussing these intruders—especially their two ringleaders, both of whom are named Muhammad—Naeem Masih, said: “[They] ruined my daughter’s wedding and intimidated our guests in such a perverted way—they should be arrested!”
The family filed a complaint with police citing the “harassment and sexual assault of minors attending the marriage of his daughter.” In response, on the following day, according to Naeem, “Muhammad Awais arrived at the main corner of our street and began shouting out death threats for any Christian that dared file an application against the paedophile-gang. He abused Christians again using the word choora to insult them with many vulgar expletives.”
Even though the Christian family had not removed their complaint, thereby risking their lives, police were very slow to move and appear to have been sharing information with the culprits. When police finally did register the complaint,
Muslim families became … enraged. During the early morning of 17th May around 2:30 am, the culprit Muhammad Awais with other armed supporters came … and started firing guns in the air while shouting abuse at local Christians. Hearing the noise, members of the Christian community … arrived at the square and asked Muhammad Awais to stop… The Muslim mob opened fire at the Christians who fortunately succeeded in hiding themselves behind the walls of local buildings. The culprits then aimed their shots at a cross on the main gate of Awami Church and vandalized their security cameras. While this happened Christians hid in their homes terrified that they would be shot and killed if they ventured out. Eventually the mob disappeared, hurling abuse and shouting threats of death and the rape of Christian boys and girls if they continued to pursue the police for an investigation.
“We were extremely terrified when the Muslim men fired at our men and the church,” continued Naeem. “They intended to kill us!”
Although the Christians again turned to police, this time adding the gun shots to their charges, police, as of last reporting, had not arrested “any of the culprits.”
Discussing this situation, Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said:
This is a particularly alarming incident. A Muslim gang of sexual perverts with many of them exhibiting bisexual paedophilic behaviour have harassed and sexually assaulted children and women at a public event. I am quite certain that their behaviour would not occur in a mosque or Muslim marriage ceremony. Worryingly, Christians are increasingly being targeted by sex attacks because of their vulnerability. It beggars belief that the local Muslim community are seeking a compromise deal when the perpetrators are known sex offenders … [M]ore must be done by Pak-authorities to prosecute sex-offenders so that such brazen attacks are ended.
Finally, on May 3, as some young Christian girls were exiting church after a prayer meeting, “several Muslim men starting circling the women on their bikes, catcalling and hooting at them,” says a report. “This had been going on for a while and on many occasions Christians from the church requested the men to stop harassing the girls.”
On this particular occasion, a nearby Christian shopkeeper, Akash Masih, intervened on behalf of the girls, “tell[ing] the men to not come before the church gates, especially after the church service ends, as the women were scared and uncomfortable.” The gang responded by calling for more Muslim men to add to their numbers before they jumped and “brutally beat” Akash as well as two other Christian men who had come to his aid. Several Christians from the community “attempted to stop the beating of the young Christian men, however, the violent Muslim gang could not be stopped and they continued to beat and abuse the Christians.”
Speaking later and suffering from multiple injuries, Akash Masih (26 yrs), said:
Over a long period of time, these boys have been harassing our girls, catcalling them and hooting using inappropriate gestures. Enough was enough, it became unbearable. How could we allow them to disrespect our women like this? We contacted local police but they did nothing.
Although ineffective as usual, there was a “price” to pay for contacting police. According to the report,
Incensed by the refusal of Christians to back down from their pursuit of justice [by refusing to withdraw their First Information Report], the culprits fomented hatred against local Christians and formed a mob that attacked the houses and businesses of the Christian community on 22nd May. The mob smashed doors and windows, destroyed stalls outside shops, damaged produce and beat Christians. Around 7:30pm Yaqoob Masih [father of Akash] was sitting peacefully in his small grocery shop, when suddenly the violent mob attacked him, his nephew and his wife [graphic video of attack here]. They repeatedly and brutally struck Yaqoob and his nephew with large planks. They continued their destruction by vandalising a shop counter, and then destroyed a monitor and ruined fruit and vegetables. Parveen Bibi (55 yrs), Yaqoob’s wife, was slapped with extreme force and suffered other physical and verbal abuse.
Yaqoob, his wife and nephew were all hospitalized and left with injuries. “The injuries have left Yaqoob incapacitated and he has not been back to his shop. He is also suffering from PTSD and anxiety.”
As of the latest reporting, “police have not yet arrested any of the culprits.”
Discussing their plight, Abid Masih, another local Christian, said: “This situation will not deter us no matter what happens we will pursue justice. We cannot leave our women vulnerable to the predatory instincts of local Muslims.”
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association, added:
This has been an abysmal attack on a vulnerable Christian community. It must be terrifying if not soul-sapping to have suffered such a brazen attack, knowing the next one is days away and the authorities meant to protect you have no desire to help. The men in this community have been brave enough and will continue to defend the women from the harassment of local Muslims. However, with an insouciant local police force it is inevitable that further attacks will occur.
Chowdhry concluded by emphasizing the scope of the task at hand:
The mindset of a whole nation must be changed—empowered Muslims must be taught to respect the minorities living amongst them.