The past year has seen continuing violence against Christians as Pakistan struggled to contain Islamist extremism. The assassination of democracy campaigner Benazir Bhutto and the turmoil that has followed make it an even more dangerous place to be a Christian, says Release International.
Release International’s partners, Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan (SLMP), believe Islamist extremism is likely to increase in the country in 2008, especially in northern areas. At the same time, there will be growing pressure from radicals, including the Taliban, to advance sharia – strict Islamic law.
Examples of the impact of growing extremism in the country can be seen in Swat district. Female teachers and students at all schools in this district of north-west Pakistan have been told to wear the burka or risk death.
Swat’s Executive District Officer has issued a notice requiring even Christian women and girls to put on full-body Islamic dress, according to the regional newspaper Daily Mashriq. The official said pressure from Taliban extremists had left him with no option.
‘The situation is becoming increasingly dangerous’, says a spokesman for Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan (SLMP). ‘Christians face many forms of persecution in Pakistan – false implication in blasphemy cases, attacks against churches, land grabbing, forced conversion, maltreatment of Christian prisoners, rape and sometimes killing. They don’t have the same rights as the Muslim majority’.
Release International, which supports the persecuted church in 30 countries, is working with SLMP to provide pastoral and practical care to Christian prisoners, including those falsely accused under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws.