17 July 2020, The Tablet

Demands grow for religious freedom in Pakistan

A Christian man died late last month after being shot in the stomach in what his family say was an anti-Christian attack.

Demands grow for religious freedom in Pakistan

Huma Younus, the girl at the centre of a forced marriage case
© Aid to the Church in Need

Christians in Pakistan have stepped up demands for religious freedom as the persecution of the Church in the Muslim-majority nation continues. 

Christians in the Punjab province of Pakistan have requested the establishment of religious freedom in the province’s education system. Although religious freedom is guaranteed under the Pakistani constitution, in the province of Punjab Islamic studies is a compulsory subject in all public schools and most private schools. The recitation of the Quran in Arabic is taught in all primary schools, and since 2018 reading the Quran has been mandatory in all secondary schools. 

Further to this, the Punjab provincial assembly has also passed a law requiring all school textbooks to be approved by a council of Islamic scholars.

The protests in favour of religious freedom are supported by a coalition of different groups, including Christian churches, secular campaign groups, and minority rights charities. 

The demands come in the wake of a number of attacks on Pakistani Christians, including the murder of a Christian resident in Peshawar. According to local and international reports, the man, Nadeem Joseph, had recently purchased a house in a largely Muslim neighbourhood of Peshawar. 

Coming under pressure from other residents to move, he refused, and on June 4, 2020 was attacked outside his home. Shot twice in the stomach, Joseph was seriously injured, and moved to a local hospital where he died on the 29 June. Joseph’s mother-in-law and brother-in-law, also injured in the attack, have survived and have identified several local muslim men as the perpetrators of the attack.

The lawyer representing the parents of a young Catholic girl who was kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam in 2019 has stated that the girl, aged 15, is now pregnant by rape. Tabassum Yousaf, the representative of the parents of Huma Younus, told Aid to the Church in Need on July 10 that Huma, forced to marry her abductor last year, has told her parents that she is pregnant by her captor. 

Yousaf has criticised the long delay taken by the Pakistani courts in addressing Younus’s parents’ case, attributing this to prejudice against religious minorities. “If a similar case were to happen involving an underage Muslim girl,” Yousaf said, “authorities would act immediately”. Younus’s parents have reportedly been threatened by her captor, said to be a senior member of the security services in Pakistan.

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