“People have become so desperate that they are forced to trade their religion in exchange for food. They are forced to convert to Islam just for one sack of flour,” reports Aneeqa A., an ADF International allied lawyer in Pakistan.
Aneeqa represents Christians who are accused of blasphemy under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, and helps them fight the often false accusations made against them. In Pakistan, a blasphemy charge is punishable by death. Currently there are approximately 40 people are on death row in the country for blasphemy.
With the coronavirus crisis, the Christian minority in Pakistan has been dealt an additional blow. Aneeqa shares that they have been denied emergency food aid, and face additional violence and marginalization, because they are Christians.
Recently, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed concern over the denial of food aid to Pakistani Christians and Hindus. In one example, a non-governmental organization in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, argued that the aid was reserved for Muslims only.
Recent international reports suggest that the situation in Pakistan is getting worse. The persecution of Christians and other religious minorities across the globe has been an ongoing concern for many years and has risen in intensity and scale in many countries. In April, USCIRF cited countries like China, Pakistan, and Myanmar as among the most notorious religious freedom violators.
Despite the Pakistani Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion, cases of discrimination on account of religion are increasing. Our local partners confirm that Christians face prejudice, humiliation, and deprivation of their rights. They frequently become victims of violence, false accusations, and imprisonment.
Christian women and girls are kidnapped and forcibly married and converted. It is estimated that around 1000 women fall victim to this treatment every year. Usually their cases are ignored. When they do get taken up, the women are often questioned in front of the men who they were forced to marry and who may have subjected them to violence and rape. It takes extremely dedicated lawyers committed to protecting religious minorities for justice to be achieved in a court room.
Despite high profile acquittals like that of Asia Bibi, blasphemy laws are still in full effect. In addition to the often lengthy delays and complications in legal proceedings, the laws also encourage a culture of impunity surrounding violence against individuals and communities who have been publicly accused of blasphemy. In Punjab, a mob attacked a Christian community that had been accused of blasphemy over the loudspeaker of a mosque. In Karachi, some 200 Christians were forced to flee their houses after a mob descended on them following false blasphemy accusations against four Christian women.
These are just a few examples of what Christians face in Pakistan. The current health crisis has made the injustices Christians experience even more numerous. Christians are forced to deny their faith simply to be able to feed their families. As the international community considers coronavirus aid responses, it should listen to the voices of the most vulnerable and protect minorities who would otherwise receive little to no help at all.