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Annual Reports 2014

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At the end of 2013, BPCA was helping deal with the aftermath of the terrible twin suicide bomb attack on a Peshawar church, including providing school fees for some of the children affected, and medical fees or equipment for some of the victims.

We started 2014 by reporting on more ongoing cases in Pakistan as news filtered in – the attempted rape of two Christian sisters aged 1 and 3, the murder of a Christian businessman by a rival, and how a Christian and his three nephews were pistol whipped for refusing to convert. We also noted how in 2013 there had been such a deteriorating situation in Pakistan that it jumped up 6 places in the Global persecution index, from 14th to 8th worst, with a 600% increase in martyrs due to the Peshawar attack. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s Sharia supreme court hardened the blasphemy laws saying that blasphemy against Muhammed should be punished by death, and other options withdrawn.
We also highlighted programming on Pakistani TV that glorified the killing of Hindus, as well as the case of a mentally ill Muslim British citizen who was on death row for ‘blasphemy’, and whose lawyer was so frightened he refused to let press name him, and the case of a British Ahmahdi who was arrested for merely reading out loud a passage from the Koran. In addition we reported on the brutal beating of a Christian family of brick-kiln workers, and yet another kidnap of a young Christian girl on her way to school and her forced marriage to rich Muslim landlord. Local advocates say such girls are often kept as slaves for a while and then burned alive.
In February 2014 Wilson Chowdhry attended and spoke at an anniversary event in Bradford for the terrible attack on Shanti Nagar 17 years before organized by a former resident. He also attended a world religions event put on by the Ahmahdi’s which resulted in fruitful connections and offers to help with our research on Pakistani education and discrimination.


 
We reported on the case of an Afghan Christian girl who was killed by the Taliban while on the run in the mountainous areas of North Pakistan, accompanying her Afghan cousin who had converted from Islam (we have since learnt that the cousin has now been rescued with help from American contacts and is living and working in a much safer Asian country), and also the case of an interfaith marriage where the couple secretly married, to the outrage of the Muslim girls’ family. Whilst the police did protect the family against the huge Valentine’s day mob that gathered after Friday prayers, who had threatened to burn down all the houses if the family did not find the couple, they then falsely charged the groom with kidnap and theft of gold arrested the father and cousin of the groom and tortured them into confessing to involvement in the kidnapping, and as a result the father had a heart attack.


 
In March we reported on the ongoing saga of Asia Bibi’s appeal against her death sentence for blasphemy, and the death sentence handed down against a Christian man for alleged ‘blasphemy’ where the compliant appears only to have made after the accuser consulted with extremist groups. We also reported on several new cases – a Christian headmaster and several of his staff who are human rights activists were threatened and tortured and told to stop their human rights work, and school equipment was stolen. We also reported on two more kidnaps and forced marriages of Christian teenage girls, in one case because the girl’s family had refused to convert to Islam, as well as a Mob bulldozing a church building being constructed because a cross was placed on it and bible verses on hoardings.


 
Also in March, a BPCA delegation including Wilson Chowdhry and genocide expert Desmond Fernandez was invited to attend a special meeting of Dutch MP’s on Pakistan, were they discussed the situation of a number of minority groups. As a result, the MP’s put in an appeal against the Dutch government’s decision to give special status to Ahmahdi refugees, but not to Christians (later on this appeal was successful and Christian refugees from Pakistan now have a special status with the Dutch government, which should make it easier for them to escape and claim asylum in Holland).
In April, the BPCA again organized the Redbridge Easter parade with participation from a number of Christian groups and churches, and which went very well, with thousands in attendance and a wide variety of acts and musicians performing. Unfortunately, the counterpoint in Pakistan involved the brutal rape of a 7 year old Christian girl on Easter Sunday, and the beating of brick kiln worker for taking extra days off for Easter – it is likely his life was only saved because villagers spotted his employer beating him and intervened. In addition, another Christian couple including a wheel chair-bound husband, were sentenced to death for blasphemy for allegedly sending blasphemous texts to Muslims including the local imam in the infamous Gojra, despite the fact that the SIMs from which the texts were sent were not in their names, and that the couple were not capable of writing the English messages.
Through May Asia Bibi’s ever lengthening saga of delayed appeal dates continued, and Jean Lambert MEP met with BPCA and again condemned the blasphemy laws and the death sentence against Mrs Bibi. In addition, we reported on the case of a pregnant Muslim woman who was stoned to death by her family for marrying a man of her own choice – at the very gate of Lahore High Court in front of police who stood by and did nothing, as well as the assassination of a human rights lawyer representing several people accused of blasphemy. A priest from a group called the Ecumenical Catholic Church UK was moved to institute weekly masses for Christians in Pakistan.
In June BPCA co-organized a protest outside the Sudanese embassy over the case of Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian doctor and mother sentenced to 100 lashes for ‘adultery’ for marrying her Christian husband and death for apostasy because her father who deserted the family was a Muslim. The embassy refused to accept the petition and called the police because the group was singing ‘Amazing Grace’. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, a Christian politician was assassinated outside his home by his own bodyguard.
In July the BPCA participated in the local International Day in Ilford. We also closed down our old blogsite and fully switched to a new and improved central website, and in early August we announced that a BPCA report on Education in Pakistan that brought together contributions from many faiths – even including a Pakistani Jew . We were also involved in organizing a vigil outside 10 Downing Street over the victims of Isis campaign of genocide in the Middle East and a multi-faith protest during the day later on, an event that led to an interview on Premier radio about the situation of Christians in Pakistan. Meanwhile, in Pakistan a leading Christian lawyer and rights activist who had just offered to help Asia Bibi faced three gunmen who opened fire on his family home, injuring a Muslim neighbour. A 12 year old Christian girl was kidnapped by two Muslim men and three Muslim women and raped by the men. Eventually, after much pressure, the police arrested the two rapists, but one was let out on bail and started threatening the family.
In September we reported on a local imam instigating the arrest of 55 Christians and 3 Muslims for blasphemy, on the pretext that they had desecrated a Muslim cemetery which a local Muslim landowner had given them to bury their own dead, as well as this year’s usual flooding that always affects the poor, and therefore Christians, disproportionally. We also reported on a case where a Hindu staff member at a school along with a Christian colleague who had converted from Hinduism were charged with blasphemy after the headmaster claimed to have found the charred remains of a Koran and two extremist imams appeared on the scene within two minutes. A mob egged on by extremists attacked the victim’s homes. Relatives suggest that the reason is Muslim outrage that Hindu’s are converting to Christianity of their own free will. In other news, Christians in Pakistan demanded the right to go on pilgrimage to Israel and that Pakistani institute diplomatic relations as many other Muslim nations have done. We also reported on the assassination of a liberal Muslim professor who was accused of blasphemy and apostasy for saying Muslim women could marry non-Muslim men and for saying Muslim women could pray whilst wearing lipstick and nail polish. In addition a Muslim man accused of blasphemy was shot in his prison cell by a police constable, leading to fears for a Christian blasphemy victim held in the same prison.
In October we reported that the 55 Christians charged with blasphemy the previous month had been ‘exonerated’ after the local Christian community had been forced into a compromise deal, but even though 13 Christian men were released, the fact remains that they had been tortured. The BPCA also managed to get aid in the form of food packages and medicines to some Christian victims of the floods. Meanwhile, when Asia Bibi’s appeal is finally heard, it is rejected, shattering any remaining trust in the legal system. Her husband reported that there were chants of ‘blasphemer’ and ‘kill her’ in the court room. The BPCA organized several well attended protests, one of which included a powerful re-enactment in dance of the events that led to Bibi’s arrest. In addition, Wilson Chowdhry was interviewed by a French magazine over Asia Bibi’s case. Meanwhile, a Christian boy had fallen in love with a Muslim girl and married her in September, under a Sharia ceremony, converting to Islam in the process, in the hope that it would protect his family from extremists. It was a vain hope. A mob of policemen and extremists clambered over the walls of the family compound and arrested him for kidnap, severely beating him and several of the women in the family. Another completely uninvolved man from the family was arrested also. The man’s weeping wife, gave testimony accusing the men of kidnap after her family told her that if she did not, they would kill both of them.



 
Whilst we continued to help victims of the floods, November opened with the horrific lynching of a young Christian couple, parents of five children. They were accused of burning the Koran and held in their employers offices, and were told they could only escape if they paid – something they could not immediately do because the same employer had withheld their wages. A mob stormed the room, dragged them out naked and beat them so severely that their arms and legs were broken, then poured petrol over them and tossed them alive into the brick-kiln where they worked. Police stood by and did nothing, refusing even to fire their guns in the air. Later on reinforcements arrested some of the mob, but too late for the victims. In addition, the police refused to let the family register an FIR, insisting they did it themselves, and secretly buried the victims at night, denying them proper Christian burial. The BPCA organized several protests and vigils, including one outside the Pakistani embassy in London, despite opposition from consular officers. Back in Pakistan, a Christian man and former teacher at a prestigious school was arrested by police for blasphemy after over three years in hiding and on the run and apparently repeatedly being refused help from the UNHCR. Another Christian man was arrested for selling alcohol and drugs, and died after a few hours in police custody, with the police saying it was of a heart attack, but his family stated he had marks of torture on his body.
In November, also, Asia Bibi filed another appeal, this time to the Supreme Court. Back in her home city, a pregnant Christian woman was insulted as ‘untouchable’ by two Muslim women, and she argued back. This enraged two men from the women’s family and they attacked her, ripped her clothes to pieces and beat her severely with rods while a mocking mob looked on and then stoned her as she fled. The attackers also stole money, jewelry and her mobile phone, and she later miscarried as a result of the trauma and beating. As usual, the police were worse than useless. Meanwhile, back in the UK, the BPCA was interviewed over the ‘Safe Havens’ project in the UK and the issue of the hatred and persecution converts from Islam can face here in the UK, as well as the rising tide of Sharia courts and hardening attitudes among younger Muslim generations. Additionally, the BPCA launched a shirt design ‘We are One’ to raise funds for and show solidarity with persecuted Christians around the world. We finished off by reporting on the naming of a road in Lahore after Cecil Chaudhry, a Pakistani war hero from the air force, a rare recognizing in public life of the contribution of a religious minority person to the history of the nation.
In December, BPCA launched their report ‘The Education System in Pakistan: Discrimination and the Targeting of the 'Other' in the Houses of Parliament, with speakers including Desmond Fernandez, Peter Tatchell and several other speakers who were also involved in the project from the Hindu and Muslim and Ahmahdi communities. The report also was the occasion of a link-in with the leadership of the Syriac Orthodox church. We also organized Ilford’s first Christmas festival, as well as participating in vigils in support of the victims of the Taliban attack on an army school. We featured the moving account of a Christian university student about her experiences and the huge pressures she faces to convert at university, the discrimination and similar.



Also back in Pakistan, two Christian teenage sisters were raped at night whilst they had gone out into the fields to go to the toilet. The police were very aggressive in trying to force the family into a compromise deal rather than pursuing justice against the rapists who had laughed and mocked the girls, saying this was the fate of all Christian girls. We sent in the young Christian university student who has offered to become a part-time worker to link with the victims, despite some opposition on the ground, and in the first few weeks of 2015 we stepped out in faith and were able to provide a toilet block for the impoverished family, as local boys are still threatening to rape them again. Indeed, in February relatives of the rapists came outside the house and said that the girls deserved to be raped for being unwanted Christians in a Muslim country and fired guns in the air and would be raped again. They fired at the girls 12 year old brother and fired shots at the door of the home – the family have now fled to a city for the time-being. We are looking to provide a communal wash and toilet area for other Christians in the community. We also reported on an attempted abduction of a Christian girl from the side of her mother, the perpetrator beating the mother with a cricket bat and throwing her on the garbage, leaving her with broken bones. Sadly, we also learned that one of the victims of the 2013 Peshawar suicide bomb we had been supporting passed away from her injuries.

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