Pakistani Christians Mark Christmas Amidst Islamic Uprising

Pakistan is among the worst countries in the world for minorities, especially Christians.

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Credit: AP

ISLAMABAD Pakistani Christians celebrated Christmas on Thursday with prayers even as violence claimed dozens of lives in Pakistan and the threat of fresh attacks loomed in the country.

The recent Taliban massacre claimed at least 148 livesmostly children at a military-run school in northwestern Pakistanshocked people from all communities.

The attack at the Army Public School and College in Peshawar on December 16 was the deadliest slaughter of innocents in the country and horrified a nation, especially minorities already weary of unending terrorist assaults.

In the tense cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad ravaged by a wave of religious terrorism, Pakistan’s Christmas celebrations were limited.

To prevent further incidents, a large security presence stood alert to protect churches in Islamabad while limited Christmas celebrations occurred inside the city. Because of security reasons a number of churches in Rawalpindi cancelled celebrations, while several churches led prayers for the victims of the Peshawar massacre.

In Islamabad members of the oppressed Christian community celebrated Christmas activities amid tight security and exchanged sweets and received blessings at the city’s famous Lady Fatima church.

In the past Christians normally celebrated Christmas with door­-to-­door caroling, special church services and family gatherings to share the joy of the birth of baby Jesus. However this time Christmas celebrations were limited due to too threats mainly from al-Qaeda and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan terrorists.

Pakistan is among the worst countries in the world for minorities, especially Christians.

Hundreds of Christians have been killed in Pakistan by terrorists and dozens have been attacked under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Commenting on the limited Christmas celebrations in Islamabad, 60-year-old Iqbal, an active member of the Christian community in Islamabad, says that “churches are targets for terrorists, especially on Christmas Day. Many Christians stay home because they are too afraid.”

He told this reporter that in the past many families used to purchase a Christmas tree, decorate the house and make special food. He further stated that in the past members of his community used to buy new clothes and visit relatives and friends. However, because the situation is worsening in Pakistan, they cannot continue these activities anymore.

Pakistan’s nightmare for religious minorities was exposed again with the recent lynching of a Christian couple and murder of Shia Muslims on the pretext of alleged blasphemy. In November 2014 a group of some 400 Muslims burnt a Christian couple to death in a brick kiln in a village in Pakistan’s Punjab province for allegedly desecrating the Koran.

Pakistani Christians face threats and live in deplorable conditions. They are deprived of basic rights such as freedom of moment and speech. It is the Sunni Muslim who has the freedom to attack Christians, Hindu, Sikh, Ahmedi, Shia Hazara and Zikri under Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

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The number of incidents related to blasphemy laws in Pakistan is continuously increasing as more than 1,300 people have been charged under the stringent blasphemy laws of Pakistan between 1986 when they were included in the Constitution by General Zia ul Haq, until 2014.

According to a rough estimation by an Islamabad-based research institute called the Centre for Research and Security Studies, over 62 people have been killed unconstitutionally from 1990 to the present in relation for blasphemy cases while more than 147 Christians have been killed from the same period in targeted attacks.

According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, last year 39 registered cases were reported against a number of 359 people under the blasphemy law.

Sardar Mushtaq Gill, a human rights defender, says under these blasphemy laws religious minorities in Pakistan are not safe and feel insecure all the time because of such daily incidents.

This year in September a police officer shot two Christian men inside a jail in Rawalpindi, killing one accused of blasphemy and wounding another condemned to death on the same charge.

In another violent incident in May 2014 a well-known lawyer and a regional coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, who was under threat after he took on a controversial blasphemy case, was killed by gunmen who stormed into his office.

Last year in September 2013 twin suicide bombings killed at least 78 people at a church service in northwest Pakistan in what is believed to be the country’s deadliest attack on Christians. The two attackers struck at the end of a service at All Saints Church in Peshawar, the main town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which has borne the brunt of a bloody Islamist insurgency in recent years.

Similarly in 2013 a mob of almost 4,000 religious zealots gathered around Joseph Colony, a Christian-dominated area in Lahore, and burnt more than 180 homes of Christians including two churches after making false blasphemy claims against a Christian man.

In November 2010, a Christian mother named Asia Bibi was convicted under section 295 of Pakistan panel code (PPC) and sentenced to death three weeks ago when a Pakistani court upheld the death penalty verdict in her case. Bibi has been in prison for more than five years.

The mother of five was arrested in June 2009 after her neighbors complained that she had made derogatory remarks about Islam’s prophet. Former governor of Punjab Salman Taseer and federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti were gunned down in 2011 after making harsh remarks against Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

Kiyya Qadir Baloch is a freelance Baloch journalist associated with the Daily Times based in Islamabad. He reports on foreign affairs, Baloch insurgency, militancy and sectarian violence in Balochistan. Read other articles by Kiyya.