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25 April 2014

Christian sweeper shot for refusing to convert

Christian sweeper shot for refusing to convert

Haroon, a 22-year-old sweeper from Lahore, Pakistan, was shot dead last week. And the reason? Because he refused to convert to Islam.

Haroon was reportedly mocked daily by a colleague because of his Christian faith, and last Wednesday, 16 April, this colleague became increasingly aggressive and pulled out a gun after hearing Haroon declare he followed Jesus. Release International reported that police opened a case on Haroon's killing only after local Christians protested against claims he had committed suicide.

Christians remain among the poorest and most marginalised in Pakistan, and are disempowered by high poverty and illiteracy levels. Many are forced to take low-paid work and Christian women are particularly at risk of sexual and physical abuse from their employers. There are also many reports of the abduction and forced marriage of Christian women to Muslims.

Because perpetrators of violence against religious minorities are rarely brought to justice they are also viewed as easy targets. At least 80 Christians were killed in September 2013 when All Saints Church in Peshawar, north-western Pakistan, was attacked by suicide bombers. Open Doors has ranked Pakistan eighth on their World Watch List of countries where persecution is the most severe, noting the Islamising culture which isolates Christians, as well as the threat from Islamic militant organisations targeting them.

Islam is the official state religion of Pakistan, meaning proselytising among Muslims is against the law. Islamic penalties can also be given under sharia law for crimes such as extra-marital sex.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has named Pakistan as the number one enforcer of blasphemy laws in the world, with Christians disproportionately charged under the notorious Section 295C of the Penal Code. Often Christians are wrongly accused by others to settle personal scores.

Sawan Masih, a Christian roadsweeper from Lahore, received the death penalty last month after a Muslim friend he argued with accused him of blasphemy in March 2013. Following the accusations the local mosque denounced Sawan through their loud speakers, leading to two days of rioting in his Christian neighbourhood. A 3,000-strong mob set alight more than 200 homes, with police accused of standing by while Christian houses burned. Hundreds of Christians therefore took to the streets in the aftermath to demand greater protection. Sawan can now appeal his sentence, but even if he is not executed his family fear that he will remain in jail for many years. Hear more about Sawan's story in Release International's recent Premier Radio interview.

Although there have not yet been any official executions for blasphemy, some extremists are pushing for these to take place, and those accused can languish in jail for years. Christian Younis Masih for example was finally freed on appeal in 2013 after eight years in jail for alleged blasphemy.

Take action

Consider writing to your MP about the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, asking them to take up the matter with the foreign secretary.

Pray for the situation in Pakistan.

  • Pray for God's peace, comfort and protection for Christians in Pakistan, including those wrongly accused and imprisoned and their families.
  • Pray for boldness and protection for Christians as they share their faith and witness in Pakistan.
  • Pray for those working for justice for minorities in Pakistan, including organisations such as Release International.
  • Pray for the judicial and political leaders in Pakistan, that they will act justly and work for the protection of all Pakistani citizens.