Church Planters in Pakistan Facing Death Threats

Christians working to plant churches in Pakistan have faced recent death threats, while experts warn that conditions for Christians and other religious minorities may only get worse.

Javed David has been building churches in poor communities for the past two years, but says he is becoming increasingly afraid of the consequences, particularly in the wake of the double suicide bomb attacks on churches in Lahore, where he lives, in March.

"After the tragedy in Youhanabad [a Christian majority suburb of Lahore], circumstances have changed and now there is more fear," David told Asia News. He has personally received two threats on his life since February. Once, a motorcyclist threw a piece of paper though his car window, reading: "This is an Islamic nation. We cannot allow church building. Either you convert to Islam or you leave this country! Stop building churches or you'll pay the consequences!"

In a second incident on April 4, another motorcyclist told him: "We know what you are doing here. Stop building churches. Convert to Islam, which is the true religion. Otherwise we will make a horrible example of you."

One of David's colleagues, Ata-ur-Rehman, has also received threats. He said that though there has been some resistance from members of the local Muslim community, Christians and Muslims largely live in peace together. He did, however, express concern about "rising religious intolerance."

Recent reports on human rights in Pakistan have highlighted the problems that Christians and other religious minorities face, and other experts have noted that persecution against religious minorities is on the rise.

The Minority Rights Group and International and Sustainable Development Policy Institute said that "violent attacks against religious minorities occur against a backdrop of legal and social discrimination in almost every aspect of their lives, including political participation, marriage and freedom of belief," and called for increased protections for all citizens.

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Religious freedoms granted by the government "are only confined in words," [spokesperson for the British Pakistani Christian Association Mewhish] Bhatti said. "That's not the real story that we're facing". Forced marriages are very common, she added, noting that many girls are abandoned or even killed by their Muslim husbands if they refuse to submit to Islamic teaching.

Bhatti also said that any government protections given in the wake of incidents such as the church bombings in Youhanabad are short lived. "Our lives are in danger. The government send higher-level security for one or two weeks, just for media coverage, but [there are] no long term measures."

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Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock / Asianet-Pakistan