The world has entered a new year with new aims and objectives, new aspirations, new hopes for change, and a new start to life for many around the world.
But unfortunately for Christians in Pakistan it is the old same story, as their persecution continues and seems to be worsening.
So far what I have seen in the first three weeks of January, is contemptable and worrying as it is on a much higher scale than last January, or the beginning of any year I've known. I am only talking about what I have seen in the media, but the actual number could be very high. Perhaps hardly any day ever passes when someone, somewhere, does not have to suffer for being a Christian.
Last year was considered the worst year for Christian persecution. Pakistan is one country where discrimination and violence against Christians has risen to an unprecedented level, hate continues to grow against Christians, and despite a Supreme Court order there has been no action by the government.
The number of atrocities against Christians in Pakistan merely in January is too high for me, and if this course continues 2016 is going to be worse than all previous years for the Christians in Pakistan.
I am sure Christians wouldn't not have contemplated this kind of beginning, but like rest of the world, they would have prayed for a peaceful, prosperous New Year. But perhaps the time hasn’t come yet for their prayers to be answered. Maybe one day it will.
I am appalled by such a horrific beginning. Keeping in view the ongoing situation for the last several decades and the response from the government, it is difficult to say that there will be any significant change but I can only wish that this speed is eased and there are less causalities than in previous years.
The Government has failed to bring any perpetrators to justice and it would not be wrong to say they have the government’s tacit approval for killing innocent Christians, burning their towns, and desecrating their churches.
In the first week of this month one church in Lahore was set on fire for using loud speakers during their prayer meeting, while in another church in Kasur, Holy Bibles and other Christian literature was burnt by a Muslim man. In Sialkot while faithfuls were worshiping in a private home - after their church was seized - they were attacked by a Muslim mob.
A Christian girl, Perwasha, aged seven, was kidnaped, stripped, and her uniform thrown in the rubbish to burn, just to avenge her maternal uncle who was having an affair with a Muslim girl. Perwasha was released by her Muslim kidnappers but when her family went to the police to register their complaint, there was already a complaint against the victim's family. Later the police arrested two males from the Christian family and they were only released on the condition to leave the village where they have been living for generations.
A seven-year-old Christian boy was murdered after being gang raped in Pakistan, his body was found in the fields the following day. 15-year-old Christian girl Saima - still a minor under Pakistani law - was kidnapped, converted to Islam and then forcibly married to her kidnapper.
According to reports 700 Christians and 300 Hindu girls are forcibly converted and married to Muslim males, every year against their will.
According to MSP’s (Movement for Solidarity and Peace) investigations the usual age of these girls is between 12 and 25. When the victims' families go to the police to register an FIR (First Information Report) for abduction or rape, the police takes the abductor’s side and hardly registers any case.
Conversely, it is of the case that a counter FIR is registered against the victim's family.
The court also takes the Muslim’s side and sometimes brings in sharia laws, meaning the young girls are never returned to their family and their custody is given to their abductor. In a few cases the girls are sent to Darul Aman - a shelter.
The court fails to provide justice in these case and very often international laws are also ignored.
In another example, Christian man Nazir Masih was killed for an unknown reason in Sialkot, while recently Liaqat Masih, 47, a Christian driver, killed in police custody in Gujranwala. He was arrested after his employer accused him for stealing gold jewellery. He had been working with the same employer for the last 15 years. Being poor and illiterate (despite most of the best schools and colleges being owned by the church) the Christian community is forced to do menial jobs. Being illiterate, many work as domestic servants, women are often sexually abused and harassed and they are blackmailed for several reason, often being accused of stealing cash and jewellery. I have met several women in prison myself.
While I am writing these lines, distressing and heart breaking news keeps coming in. The latest news I have received is that drunk Muslim boys have run over three Christian girls with their car because they refused to have a ride and fun with them. Kiran was killed, Shamroza's ribs were broken and Sumble was left with a broken hip. This happened as they were rushing home from work.
Though some Christian leaders are saying the situation is improving, I don’t know what kind of information or indicators they have, as according to many people I know and my reading of the situation, the reign of terror prevails.
Christians’ cries and calls from the international community are falling on deaf ears of the Pakistani government. Even Pakistan’s own Supreme Court’s order for the protection of minorities is continuously being ignored. With every coming day, Christians feel more and more insecure and therefore thousands have fled the country. Sadly all who fled Pakistan because of fear of persecution are not very lucky, and several have lost their lives even because of the local authorities and UNHCR’s treatment, especially in Thailand.
They are living in poor and miserable conditions but are still not willing to go back to Pakistan because of the fear of persecution.
Apart from the government, Christian politicians and the Pakistani church - which is rich and has resources and is aware of the situation - doesn’t seem concerned about their people. They have no plans to improve the situation, to deal with the growing threats and to prepare local Christians to face the worst time ahead for them in Pakistan. It seems Pakistani Christians have been abandoned even by their own religious and political leadership. And if I am right, and the Christian religious and political leadership does not take it seriously, Christians have no future in Pakistan.