North Korea’s persecution of Christians ‘On par with Nero’s Rome,’ expert says

May 25, 2017 by admin  
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North Korea, May 25, 2017: Christians in North Korea are facing persecution that is likely “on par” with the level of persecution that the Early Christian Church faced under Roman emperor Nero, a prominent human rights activist said during a Capitol Hill briefing Wednesday.

Convened by the religious freedom advocacy group International Christian Concern, activists and a North Korean defector extensively detailed the grave human rights abuses Christians and all others who live under the rule of the Communist Kim regime endure, and urged lawmakers to support a resolution to re-authorize the North Korean Human Act of 2004.

In addition to speeches from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., during a morning introduction at the Rayburn Office Building, human rights advocates with years of experience in dealing with North Korea outlined how the Kim regime has nearly wiped out Christianity in the closed-off, isolated nation.

“As the tragedy of Korean separation continues after almost seven decades, one remembers … that the northern half of the Korean Peninsula was once of the cradle of the Korean Presbyterian Church,” Greg Scarlatoiu, the executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea who has led in the publication of at least 24 reports and books on the Kim regime’s human rights abuses, said during a panel discussion with other human rights experts.

“Prior to the Communist takeover, the capital city of Pyongyang used to be known as the ‘Jerusalem of the East,’” he continued. “In North Korea, Christianity was once a way of life with two churches on the same street corner [being] a common sight.”

Scarlatoiu explained that it was in 1946 when the Provisional People’s Committee for North Korea forced the closure of churches with congregations that did not meet a predetermined required number of people.

“The committee began to forbid Protestant and Catholic in-house assemblies and made Sunday a work day and Monday a rest day. And, this was just the beginning,” he added. “Under the pretext that the sound of religious songs disturbed public life, the same committee asked churches to relocate. Communist Party agitators were inserted into Christian communities and church assemblies. They began criticizing the sermons as being unprogressive.”

It was in 1962 that then-leader Kim Il-sung told the regime’s security agency that “we cannot move toward a common society with religious people,” Scarlatoiu said.

“That is why we have to put on trial and punish those who hold positions of decon or higher in Protestant or Catholic churches,” Scarlatoiu quoted Kim as telling his government officials at the time.

Scarlatoiu explained that in 1948, about one-quarter of the North Korean population was of some religious belief. But statistical data today shows that number is now below 1 percent.

“Even that number is doctored,” he said.

Over the years, the Kim regime has killed hundreds of thousands of its own people under Kim Il-sung, his son, Kim Jong-il, and his grandson, Kim Jong-un.

“Our colleagues in South Korea have thoroughly documented cases of religious persecution. Organizations such as Database Center for North Korean Human Rights and the Korean Institution for National Unification [have] interviewed thousands of defectors who brought testimony of extremely severe religious persecution,” Scarlatoiu said. “Like other Communist leaders, as mentioned earlier, Kim Il-sung and the Kim regime has rejected religion as the ‘opium of the people.’”

North Korean society is split up into social classes in which every single North Korean resident is classified according to their political risk to the Kim regime.

According to Liberty in North Korea, about 27 percent of the North Korean population is assigned to the “hostile class” — the lowest class, which consists of political dissidents of the Communist regime, religious citizens, capitalists and their descendants.

The class scheme impacts just about everything in a person’s life — occupational opportunities, education opportunities, food supply, healthcare and love life.

“One can confidently say that it is the Kim family regime that has taken religious persecution, in particular the persecution of Christians, to a level, perhaps, on par with Nero’s Rome as well as the Assyrian, Greek and Armenian genocide of World War I or the Yazidi genocide today,” Scarlatoiu continued.

For the past 15 years, North Korea has ranked as the top persecutor of Christians by Open Doors USA. Although there are state-run churches in North Korea, Scarlatoiu asserted that they are run by government officials disguised as pastors and priests.

Real Christian worship, or religious worship, is illegal and can lead to arrest, torture and even execution.

Despite the lack of access to North Korea, there are believed to be at least 120,000 people who are being tortured, beaten and forced to do hard labor in North Korean prison camps. In 2014, the United Nations reported that hundreds of thousands of prisoners have died in North Korean gulags in the last 50 years.

“For generations, [people are in these camps]. They were not charged or convicted through a fair trial. Most of them, if not all, are guilty by association. That means that one family member may be in the wrong [class] category … and the extended family members are in prisoned,” T. Kumar, the director for international advocacy at Amnesty International USA, said during the panel. “Abuses inside these camps are extremely disturbing — ranging from rape to torture to execution to starvation.”

In a report detailing the systemic human rights abuses in North Korea, the U.N. stated that the Kim regime’s human rights violations are so egregious and widespread that North Korea “does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

“I have never seen a country this closed and difficult to get access,” Kumar said. “It’s a completely isolated country. I was thinking which country to compare. There is no country to compare.”

In the western corridor of North Korea, in three provinces of North Korea, there are at least 60,000 underground Christians.

As we tackle this conundrum of North Korea with nuclear weapons and long-range missiles and abysmal human rights violations … I think the time has come to look at the small but growing underground church of North Korea also as a tremendous potential agent of changes.

- christian post

Jakarta’s Christian governor appeals blasphemy conviction

May 24, 2017 by admin  
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Indonesia, May 22, 2017: Jakarta’s jailed Christian governor today appealed his conviction for blaspheming Islam, his legal team said, as the United Nations stepped up pressure on Indonesia to overturn the controversial sentence.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known by his nickname Ahok, was jailed for two years earlier this month for insulting the Koran, a shock decision that has undermined a reputation for religious tolerance in the world’s most populous Muslim- majority country.

Lawyers for Purnama, who is currently in detention, filed the appeal to the High Court in Jakarta. They believe the judges’ decision did not properly take into account testimony from defence witnesses, lawyer Ronny Talapessy told AFP “The verdict not only stunned us and the prosecutors, the whole world was left in disbelief,” Talapessy said.

The lawyers also urged the court to release Purnama, Jakarta’s first non-Muslim governor for half a century and its first ethnic Chinese leader, on bail while his appeal is ongoing.

The sentence was widely criticised as too harsh after prosecutors had demanded that he be given just two years’ probation.

Prosecutors in the case have already filed an appeal against the decision to jail Purnama.

The appeal came as a group of UN human rights experts urged Indonesia to free the 50-year-old and repeal the country’s blasphemy laws, which critics say have been repeatedly used to target minorities.

“We urge the government to overturn Mr. Purnama’s sentence on appeal or to extend to him whatever form of clemency may be available under Indonesian law so that he may be released from prison immediately,” said a statement from the experts, who included special rapporteurs on freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

Purnama was hauled into court last year to face trial for allegedly insulting Islam while campaigning for re-election, after the claims sparked major protests in Jakarta.

He offended Muslims after quoting a passage from the Koran, which he said his opponents were using to trick people into voting against him. Some interpret the verse as meaning Muslims should not vote for non-Muslim leaders.

Purnama had once been favourite to win last month’s Jakarta election but went on to lose to a Muslim challenger following the blasphemy claims.

- india

Sri Lankan govt tries to shutdown church service for Tamil dead

May 23, 2017 by admin  
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Colombo, May 23, 2017: A Sri Lankan court tried to stop a Jesuit priest organizing a memorial service for Tamils killed during the country’s civil war because it might threaten peace and national security.

Father Elil Rajendram received a court order to stop a May 18 service to remember Tamils who died in the country’s 30-year civil war. The service was to be held on the grounds of a church in Sri Lanka’s north, a region where the rebel Tamil Tigers were based and from where they waged war.

The government remembers May 18 as a day of victory while Tamils remember it as a day of mourning.

Father Rajendram’s memorial service included carved names of dead Tamils on stone but police were concerned that the list may include the names of former Tamil Tiger fighters.

The order was challenged the same day and a Mass was eventually allowed to be held inside the church situated in the village of Mullivaikkal where hundreds of Tamil civilians were killed during the final stages of the civil war that ended in 2009.

Ruki Fernando, a human rights activist, said it was totally unacceptable to stop the Tamils from remembering their loved ones.

“It’s terrible that Father Elil was summoned to the police station three times in one week. His parents’ residence has even been visited by police,” said Fernando.

“However, in Colombo, members of the Sri Lankan army remembered their dead as war heroes at a national event patronized by the president,” he said.

“This amounts to blatant discrimination against both living and dead Tamils, irrespective of whether they are civilians or members of the Tamil Tigers. The armed forces of Sri Lanka and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna Marxist party are alleged to have committed serious crimes but their members are remembered as heroes,” he said.

Father Elil and others have been helping Tamils remember their dead despite surveillance, intimidation and repeated police summons.

Fernando said all Christians, especially Jesuits and Catholic bishops should extend solidarity to Father Elil. “They must support him in continuing the important work started. This is an essential part of moving towards reconciliation, coexistence and national unity.”

Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council said there is a need for a Tamil memorial. “It is not enough to open new buildings and new infrastructure,” Perera said in a weekly column.

Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardena said the commemoration was an attempt to discredit the real heroes of the country’s armed forces while the International Truth and Justice Project called on the government to stop intimidating Tamil activists.

The U.N. Human Rights Office documented killings, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, torture and attacks on civilians between 2002 and 2011 committed on both sides of Sri Lanka’s civil war, which came to an official end in 2009 when the government overran Tamil guerrillas in the country’s north.

According to the U.N. the war claimed the lives of at least 40,000 civilians in its final days alone.

- ucan

Christians face “intimidation and violence”

May 22, 2017 by admin  
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Myanmar, May 18, 2017: Despite Myanmar (Burma) taking encouraging steps towards greater democracy, many of the country’s Christians continue to face severe persecution from the Buddhist majority. The independent United States Commission on International Religious Freedom documented the situation in Myanmar in their latest report, stating that “discriminatory restrictions on land ownership, intimidation and violence against Christians, the forced relocation and destruction of Christian cemeteries, violent attacks on places of worship, and an ongoing campaign of coerced conversion to Buddhism.”

Most of Myanmar’s Christians come from non-Burman ethnic minorities and these groups continue to be singled out. The government’s long-running war against Kachin separatists has “deeply impacted Christian and other faith communities, including by restricting their access to food, shelter, health care, and other basic necessities.” Thousands of Kachin Christians have lost their homes and live in camps.

Children in ethnic minority Christian communities are particularly vulnerable: “there are 33 Na Ta La [Buddhist] schools across the country, more than half of which are in rural, impoverished Chin, Kachin, and Naga areas. The Na Ta La schools offer free education and boarding to children of poor families who might otherwise not have access to education. In return, however, Christian students are not allowed to attend church; must practice or learn about Buddhist worship, literature, and culture; and become initiated into the monkhood or nunhood. Students effectively are cut off from their parents, and upon graduation are guaranteed government employment so long as they officially convert to Buddhism, including on their national ID cards”

- uscirf report 2017

A hospital in Lahore is forcing Christian paramedics to recite verses from the Holy Quran

May 21, 2017 by admin  
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Pakistan, May 3, 2017: Reports suggest that there is a hospital administration in the city that forces its non-Muslim staffers to either recite verses from the Holy Quran at morning assembly or be marked absent for the day.

The Mian Mir Hospital, run by the City District Government Lahore, was named after Sufi saint Hazrat Mian Mir who rose to prominence during the time of Mughal emperor Jehangir. The saint himself was a big proponent of interfaith harmony.

The matter came to light when Mian Mir Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Muhammad Sarfraz allegedly slapped a Christian paramedical staffer for not attending the assembly. Following the incident, all paramedical staff protested against the MS and other hospital administration by shutting down all functions of the medical facility.  “This act of the MS is a violation of the Constitution of Pakistan,” commented a Christian paramedical staffer named Marshal.

Talking to the media, he asked religious scholars to sort out the issue as the administration of the hospital was pressurising them to leave their jobs.”

Another paramedical staff member of the medical facility, Fahad Ahmed, said both Muslims and Christians were working in harmony. “It is professional workplace; I don’t know why the administration is forcing our Christian brothers to do this. This is totally unacceptable.”

Center for Social Justice Chairman Peter Jacob told The Express Tribune that religious freedom is guaranteed to all under Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan. “This act goes against the constitution and should be dealt with accordingly,” he commented.

A paramedical staffer also agreed with this notion. He urged authorities to thoroughly investigate the matter and “question the MS over the incident”.   Despite several attempts and text messages, MS Mian Mir Hospital Dr Muhammad Sarfraz was unavailable for comment.

However, CDGL Health CEO Dr Muhammad Saeed assured a high-level committee had been formed to look into the matter and a strict departmental inquiry would be initiated against anyone found guilty.

Experts said extremism was creeping into public hospitals and was a massive concern for law enforcement agencies. A senior law enforcement official, requesting anonymity, said the phenomena of extremism among doctors and other paramedical staff was nothing new. He urged the health department to frame a code of conduct to avoid any such incident in future. “The issue of Mian Mir hospital is just a small manifestation and also serves as an alarm bell,” he concluded.

- tribune

Young female ISIS terrorist who attempted to kill Christians on easter by Pakistan

May 19, 2017 by admin  
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Pakistan, May 18, 2017: The government of Pakistan has reportedly pardoned a young medical student who joined the Islamic State terror group but was stopped before blowing up a Christian church on Easter, insisting that she can serve as an example to others.

Major General Asif Ghafoor argued on Samaa TV that Noreen Laghari is not a terrorist, and due to the actions of Pakistan’s armed forces who caught her before carrying out the bombing, her mind has been rescued from brainwashing, the British Pakistani Christian Association reported on Wednesday.

“So should we treat Noreen like a terrorist or release her so that she can tell others how she was trapped and used for terrorism?” Ghafoor asked. “In this way, awareness will be created among the younger generation and parents as well as institutions.”

The BPCA noted that Pakistan’s Muslim majority had pressed for Laghari’s freedom, but wondered if they would have been so merciful if the medical student, who had left to join IS in Syria, had attempted to blow up a Muslim school instead.

“Noreen Leghari is a woman intelligent enough to be considered for a role as a doctor yet is being described as pliable and immature,” BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry said.

“Miss Leghari’s animosity for Christians would no doubt have led to many deaths including her own, yet a ‘soul searching nation’ have a strong will and desire to show her mercy.”

Chowdhry continued: “How many of these same Pakistani citizens would be so forgiving had Miss Legahri planned to bomb a Muslim School?

“If it were Muslims that were targeted by Legahri I am certain many of the campaigners would find her crime too offensive for granting a pardon — Christian lives are ostensibly less valuable in Pakistan.”

Chowdhry argued that it is “hard to believe” that Legahri’s “deep-rooted hatred” has simply vanished when she was ready to kill Christians this Easter.

“Years down the line I pray we do not discover a series of ‘Shipman’ type deaths of Christians at any hospital she is employed by,” he warned, referring to British GP and serial killer Harold Shipman.

“I asked several Pakistani Christians whether they would trust a doctor who had previously attempted to bomb a church on Easter Day, to administer care for them. It was no surprise to me that the unanimous response was a resounding no.”

While Laghari has been pardoned, Christians in Pakistan continue being targeted by the nation’s blasphemy laws, and severely punished if found guilty of insulting the Islamic faith.

A court in Pakistan sentenced a Christian man to life in prison earlier in May for sending “blasphemous” text messages from his mobile phone.

Legal advocacy group CLAAS vowed to continue fighting for Zafar Bhatti’s freedom despite the harsh sentencing.

“The lower court’s judges always hesitate to make decisions on the merit, or free people accused of blasphemy, and instead transfer their burden to the higher court without realizing how their decision will impact the accused and their families’ lives,” Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK, said in a statement.

“Bhatti is innocent and will be freed by the higher court. But it will take several years for his case to be heard by the High court, and until then he and his family will continue suffering needlessly.”

Accoridng to the Center for Research and Security Studies in Pakistan, at least 65 people have been killed over blasphemy allegations in the country since 1990, and dozens more convicted of the crime have been placed on death row.

- christian post

Facebook blasphemy: Christian teenager denied bail again

May 18, 2017 by admin  
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Lahore, May 18, 2017: A court in Pakistan has refused bail to a 16-year-old Christian boy accused of Facebook blasphemy.

Nabeel Masih was arrested for “liking” and “sharing” a Facebook post which “defamed and disrespected” the Kaaba in Mecca – the building at the center of Islam’s most sacred mosque.

A Districts and Sessions judge, who refused the bail, said the boy committed a “heinous and odious act by defiling the religious feelings of Muslims and their holy place of worship.”

It was Judge Iqbal who in 2010 convicted the Christian woman Asia Bibi of blasphemy. She has been on death row ever since.

In February, a local magistrate had refused him bail despite his lawyers’ plea that as a child with no prior convictions, he should be released.

Riaz Anjum, from human rights group Pakistan for All, told World Watch Monitor the judge had acted in contravention of the law because, under Section 196 of Pakistan’s Code of Criminal Procedure, courts are prevented from hearing cases relating to blasphemy without the approval of the central or provincial government. (This is because the State perceives blasphemy to be a crime against the State.)

Masih was arrested on September 18, 2016. After his arrest, many Christians living in the area went into hiding fearing reprisals, though they later returned.

In October, Masih’s lawyers reported being intimidated by the complainant’s supporters, as they made their Appeal Court appearance.

Aneeqa Maria Anthony said she was told by a lawyer for the complainant to “watch herself and stay away.” She also said about 80 people at the hearing threatened Masih’s family.

Anthony added that she was “confident [Masih] has committed no crime and that is why we are representing him… Nabeel is innocent: the accusation against him has not yet been proven.”

Other social media cases

In July 2016, Pakistani Christian Nadeem James and his family fled their home in the religiously conservative city of Gujarat after he was accused of committing blasphemy by sending an offensive text message from his mobile phone.

In May 2016, Imran Masih, a 30-year-old road sweeper, was attacked and had a fatwa declared against him after a work colleague said he’d found an anti-Islamic video on Masih’s phone.

In 2014, lawyer Rashid Rehman was threatened in court while he represented a man accused of ‘liking’ a ‘blasphemous’ message posted on Facebook. Rehman was later murdered at his office.

- matters india

Facebook blasphemy: Christian teenager denied bail again

May 18, 2017 by admin  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Lahore, May 18, 2017: A court in Pakistan has refused bail to a 16-year-old Christian boy accused of Facebook blasphemy.

Nabeel Masih was arrested for “liking” and “sharing” a Facebook post which “defamed and disrespected” the Kaaba in Mecca – the building at the center of Islam’s most sacred mosque.

A Districts and Sessions judge, who refused the bail, said the boy committed a “heinous and odious act by defiling the religious feelings of Muslims and their holy place of worship.”

It was Judge Iqbal who in 2010 convicted the Christian woman Asia Bibi of blasphemy. She has been on death row ever since.

In February, a local magistrate had refused him bail despite his lawyers’ plea that as a child with no prior convictions, he should be released.

Riaz Anjum, from human rights group Pakistan for All, told World Watch Monitor the judge had acted in contravention of the law because, under Section 196 of Pakistan’s Code of Criminal Procedure, courts are prevented from hearing cases relating to blasphemy without the approval of the central or provincial government. (This is because the State perceives blasphemy to be a crime against the State.)

Masih was arrested on September 18, 2016. After his arrest, many Christians living in the area went into hiding fearing reprisals, though they later returned.

In October, Masih’s lawyers reported being intimidated by the complainant’s supporters, as they made their Appeal Court appearance.

Aneeqa Maria Anthony said she was told by a lawyer for the complainant to “watch herself and stay away.” She also said about 80 people at the hearing threatened Masih’s family.

Anthony added that she was “confident [Masih] has committed no crime and that is why we are representing him… Nabeel is innocent: the accusation against him has not yet been proven.”

Other social media cases

In July 2016, Pakistani Christian Nadeem James and his family fled their home in the religiously conservative city of Gujarat after he was accused of committing blasphemy by sending an offensive text message from his mobile phone.

In May 2016, Imran Masih, a 30-year-old road sweeper, was attacked and had a fatwa declared against him after a work colleague said he’d found an anti-Islamic video on Masih’s phone.

In 2014, lawyer Rashid Rehman was threatened in court while he represented a man accused of ‘liking’ a ‘blasphemous’ message posted on Facebook. Rehman was later murdered at his office.

- matters india

Protestant home church banned for “collaborating with Korea”

May 17, 2017 by admin  
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China, May 17, 2017: A protestant domestic church has been declared outlawed in Fujian Province and accused of “establishing religious sites” and “collaborating with South Korea.”

The news was published yesterday on the Christian Post. The authorities accused the Church of Berea [a Protestant denomination] “River of Life” for having opened a theology institute, supported by money from Korea, and having set up several places of worship. They also seized 1,346 yuan (about US $ 200) of donations, as “illegal revenue”.

The “River of Life” community was founded eight years ago and has gathered dozens of faithful every Sunday.

Tens of millions of Protestant Christians prefer to practice their faith in the so-called “domestic churches”, which are not registered with the Ministry of Religious Affairs. This makes them illegal. But in the Protestant world there is growing pressure to widen religious freedom even to unregistered communities, provided they are not “evil cults”, with negative consequences on the population and government.

An attorney who is studying the case of the “River of Life” Church states that “it is ridiculous to arrest someone because he participates in Christian meetings at home. The government often uses the excuse that Christians’ disturb the social order ‘to persecute them.’

In the case of the outlawed community, there is also a link with a foreign country that, according to government regulations, should be monitored and avoided as much as possible to create “national and patriotic” communities. Pastor Zhang, interviewed by China Aid notes: “Since religions are founded in different countries, the people are unavoidably ‘collaborating with foreign powers’ when they choose a religious belief. Jesus himself was a foreigner. This logic is ridiculous. Our government has armed itself to the teeth in order to control people’s minds.”

Last month Doug Bandow, of the Cato Institute, said that “President Xi Jinping’s China is becoming more and more fearful,” as the government continues to suppress all dissent and contacts with the West.

For Bandow, the growing persecution in China shows that “the Communist god who has failed, fears competition [with other religions]“.

In a commentary published in the Japan Times, Bandow notes that despite religious persecution, economic reforms undertaken by China “have enlarged the space for the expression of faith” and that “freedom cannot be easily narrowed.”

Badow cites a recent report by Freedom House (a USA body for Religious Freedom), in which it is noted that repression against Christians in China rather than checking religion’s natural expansion and keeping it under political control, has essentially created an enormous black market, forcing many believers to operate outside the law and to view the regime as “unreasonable, unjust, or illegitimate.”

- asianews

Pakistani official: ‘We have failed minorities’

May 16, 2017 by admin  
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Lahore, May 16, 2017: An official from Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province has admitted that authorities have failed to protect religious minorities from hard-line Islamists.

“The intolerance, anger on religious matters and culture of lynching disturbs us,” said Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan chief spokesman of the Punjab government speaking at the May 12 event titled “Securing Punjab’s Diversity” in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province where majority of Christians in the country reside. Punjab also has 60 percent of the country’s population.

As an example, Kahn said four people from the Ahmadiyya sect were killed by hardliners during April. “The religious cleansing must stop,” said Khan who is also special assistant to the Punjab chief minister.

Ahmadis, who believe Prophet Mohammed was not the last prophet, have suffered harsh persecution since they were declared non-Muslims by Pakistan in 1974.

“We have failed in protecting minorities from forced conversion,” Khan said at the event attended by more than 30 activists, journalists and educationists. “Everybody knows it, why should we hide it?” he asked.

Out of 1,000 Christian and Hindu women forcibly converted to Islam and forcibly married each year in Pakistan, 700 of them are Punjabi Christians, according to the National Commission of Justice and Peace and the Pakistan Hindu Council. Rights group say many of these are under the age of 18 and are married off to Muslims, or forced into bonded labor.

Speaking to ucanews after the event, Father Abid Habib — former regional coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic religious major superiors — said, “It has become impossible for local Hindus to recover their kidnapped children. In all the cases the minority community is at the losing end.”

“The police and the courts always take the side of the Muslim party. Even though one can see that the girl is making a statement under pressure, the courts usually dismiss the case and let her go with the kidnappers,” said Father Habib. “Perhaps they think of it as lawful in service of Islam.”

As a panelist at the event, Nadeem Umar Tarar, from the National College of Arts in Lahore, highlighted other issues that minorities face in Pakistan such as the country’s controversial blasphemy laws and the bombing of Sufi shrines.

“Our cultural identities have been suppressed by a religious and extremist mindset. There is no space for intellectual discussion,” said Tarar.

Speaking at the event, Catholic Professor Anjum James Paul said that non-Muslim families in Pakistan continue living in silence for fear of persecution and face religious discrimination in schools and government offices.

Paul, who is the Chairman of Pakistan Minorities Teachers’ Association, said school textbooks for increasing hatred for religions other than Islam. “We are facing internal threats due to the prevalent extremist mindset which is affecting everybody including students and religious groups,” he said.

Christians make up most of the non-Muslim minority in central Punjab and account for 1.5 per cent of the province’s total population. Punjab government records say about 7,000 Hindus live in the province. About 70 percent of Pakistan’s 600,000 Ahmadis also live in the province.

Nationally, more than 95 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people are Muslims. Less than 2 percent are Christians, Hindus and other religious minorities.

- ucan

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