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Concerns grow for Christians and other Minorities in Pakistan as anti-blasphemy riots bring country to standstill

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Today Pakistan was in turmoil as hundreds of thousands of protesters rioted across the nations cities and villages.  The situation reached such dangerous levels that the army has been called in to bring things back under control

Anti-blasphemy demonstrators began the campaign two weeks ago after a firebrand Islamic cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi first called for protests over a change in the electoral oath for lawmakers that once confirmed the finality of the prophet Muhammed.  Although no significant change has been made in the Bill regarding Khatm-e-Nabuwat (Finality of the Prophet) with exception of moving it from point number (i) to point number (iii) and changing the wording from ‘solemnly swear’ to ‘declare’, the reaction has been untamed fury. The offence to Muslims in Pakistan was compounded by the statement itself being relegated from first position to third position on the new form. 


Old candidate form

To declare something in law, signifies, to tell any thing simply, but seriously; to swear in law, is, to ratify it, by an oath. Many Islamic media have been arguing that an affidavit and a declaration form have different legal implications and that a declaration does not guarantee the same level of authenticity that an affidavit under oath does.  Sadly the extremists on the ground have used all the arguments to suggest a blasphemy has occurred and have used the change in wording to incense large swathes of the nation.

Although the Minister for Law, Zahid Hamid rapidly reversed the change to the form after stating it was due to a clerical error, this has done very little to dissipate the mass hostility towards the Government. 

Protesters claim the changes are blatant appeasement for the Ahmadiyyah  community who are considered heretical in Pakistan. The Ahmadiyyah faith is outlawed in Pakistan and the 'Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan' states:

'A person who does not believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of The Prophethood of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), the last of the Prophets or claims to be a Prophet, in any sense of the word or of any description whatsoever, after Muhammad (Peace be upon him), or recognizes such a claimant as a Prophet or religious reformer, is not a Muslim for the purposes of the Constitution or law.'

Already in excess of 200 people have been injured as a consequence of the countrywide rioting, dozens of whom have been police officers. After 150 people wre arrested in Islamabad by police who used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to bring things under control to no avail, Khadim Hussain Rizvi who leads Tehreek e Labbaik Pakistan Party demanded protestors bring the whole county to a halt until Law Minister Zahid Hamid is removed from post and charged with blasphemy.

His supporters who seem extremely large in number responded by gathering in their local cities with reports coming in of mass riots in Karachi, Lahore, Hyderabad, Faislabad and Jhlum to name but a few. 

Road blocks made of burning tree branches and tyres have triggered huge traffic jams across the country, in many locations traffic was brought to a standstill. Train tracks were also blocked creating travel havoc across Pakistan.

Minority communities have expressed great fear and many Christian communities have been praying for a quick end to the nightmare that has taken over their cities. Anti-minority slogans are being shouted by protestors across Pakistan and many experts believe that the heightened emotions could lead to a major attack on either an Ahmadiyyah or Christian community if the situation is not brought under control.

Our lead officer Mehwish Bhatti who resides in Islamabad was very candid about her fears, she said:

"The outrageous violence on our streets is typical of the increasingly radical Muslim majority.  A minor change of words on an electoral candidate form has led to the calling for our MInister for Law to be declared a blasphemer. 

"This is a predictable exaggeration of slightly altered words that for all intents and purposes hold to the exact same assertions."

Mehwish now fears for the safety of minorities in an increasingly febrile atmosphere, she said:

"The protestors are smashing buidlings and vehicles, they have caused huge transport delays and people are extremely frightened about what will happen next.  Christians and Ahmadiyyah's are most at threat, we are already hated but through no fault of our own the animosity towards us has become more animated. 

"Christian and Ahmadiyyah communities are gearing up for an imminent attack but it was not our communities that requested the change to the form."

A outreach event planned for today was delayed after our missionary team of brother Leighton and his wife Pana were delayed whilst travelling by car to Islamabad. Terrified that the couple might get caught up in the melee British Pakistani Christian Association volunteers asked their friends and families to pray for their safe travel.  The outreach was cancelled due to the delay but Leighton and Pana are now in a place of safety.  However later in the evening Mehwish Bhatti found herself caught up in heavy traffic on her way home and none of the riots seem to have been brought under control yet.

Brother Leighton who is a white British citizen undertaking our mission work in Pakistan, spoke to our Chairman Wilson Chowdhry, about the turmoil he is facing, he said:

"I am stranded at a service station in Kalar Kahar.  I have been left here for 24 hours after our bus could no longer journey on to Islamabad.  There is an evening curfew that has been placed across many cities in the country imposed by the military here too but it fills me with little confidence for my safety. To me it seems as Pakistani Authorities took too late in getting themselves in order and allowed this debacle to ensue.

"Its frightening, I stand out a mile off with my pale skin and protestors have been heard shouting anti-western and anti-minority slogans. Our return flights are on Thursday and for now we cannot even find a way back to Lahore.

"Its hard to fathom why these protest are so violent or even why they are so well supported.  The Law Minister has admitted a clerical error and the Election Bill 2017 changes that caused offence have now been resolved. This reaction simply does not make sense and the riots illustrate to the world just how intolerant Pakistani Muslims have become."

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:

"We are extremely concerned about the safety of our missionaries Brother Leighton and his wife Pana whilst they are in Pakistan.  Their safety is of paramount importance to us and in the morning we shall make a decision on whether or not to proceed with the rest of our outreach programme. If the level of rioting across Pakistan increases or remains the same we will have no option but to terminate our current mission programme, which was due to complete at the end of the month.

"We are praying for all minority groups in Pakistan and call for Christians across the globe to pray for their safety."



The new form



 

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