There are around 3 to 4 million Christians in Pakistan. They make up about 1.5 to 2 percent of the population. About half are Catholic and half are Protestant. Many live in southern Punjab. Many originally converted there to escape the caste system.. The largest Christian group belongs to the Church of Pakistan, an umbrella Protestant organization. Roman Catholics are the next largest group of Christians. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

According to the 2017 provisional census results, Christians make up 1.59 percent of the population of Pakistan, which is estimated to be around 230 million. By some estimates 80 percent of the Christians in Pakistan live in the Punjab. [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2019, United States Department of State, Office of International Religious Freedom]

Christians claim that St. Thomas — the Doubting Thomas Apostle of Christ — preached in what is now Pakistan in A.D. 30 after arriving earlier in southern India. The Protestant Church of Pakistan was created in 1970. Christians have reached high positions in the military and civil service. Many middle class Muslims go to Christian school. The population of Pakistan is 97 percent Muslim, but religious minorities are free to practice their faiths. Proselytizing is subject to restrictions.

The majority of Christians in Pakistan are descendants of those who converted from Hinduism under the British Raj. Most converted to escape their low-caste status. Many who converted to Christianity and Buddhism in South Asia under the British were Dalits (Untouchables) — one of the lowest castes. Even today Christians in Pakistan are among the poorest people and amny do dirty, undesirable jobs. in Pakistan. Most Pakistani Christians live in large cities, such as Karachi, Lahore, Bahawalpur, Hydarabad, Rawalpindi, Quetta, and Peshawar, They have their own churches presided over by Pakistani and Western clergy. They celebrate Christmas and Easter and have many similarities with [Source: BBC, Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, Thomson Gale, 2006]

Christian Denominations in Pakistan

According to the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices: “The majority of Pakistani Christians are either Roman Catholic or mainline Protestant, although many other denominations, such as Seventh-day Adventists and United Presbyterian Church of Pakistan, are represented as well. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, Thomson Gale, 2006]

According to “Cities of the World” “Islamabad has an Apostolic Nunciature, a Roman Catholic church, and two interdenominational Protestant churches: The Protestant International Church (PIC), and St. Thomas (Church of Pakistan) which has an Episcopalian format. Rawalpindi has a Catholic cathedral and other Protestant congregations. Also in Islamabad is a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon). Jewish services are held in private homes available in the area. International Bible Study groups also meet in homes. Christian congregations may be a mixture of foreign nationals and Pakistanis. Services are in both Urdu and English.” [Source: “Cities of the World”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

Christian Education in Pakistan

Reporting from Lahore, Akbar Ahmed wrote in the New York Times: “If ever there was a target for the Pakistan Taliban, I thought to myself, this would be it. Like many non-Christian Pakistanis, I owed my education to Christian teachers, both at Forman and at my previous school, Burn Hall in Abbottabad, which was run by Roman Catholic priests. We loved and respected our Christian teachers, and they us. We never doubted that harmony and cooperation between faith groups were not only possible, but also completely normal. It was the reality of our lives. [Source: Akbar Ahmed, New York Times, December 23, 2013]

“Christians have had a considerable impact, especially in education. Many of Pakistan’s most prominent leaders — including the current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, the assassinated prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and former President Pervez Musharraf — went to Christian schools. Christians also educated Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who founded Pakistan in 1947. Under Pakistan’s Constitution, Christians were guaranteed equal rights.

“I had returned after half a century to my old college (now a chartered university) to receive an honorary doctorate. Once there, I found myself transported back to one of the happiest periods of my life. It was a different Pakistan and it was a time of hope. Christians were very much part of the fabric of the nation.”

“Besides the 750 graduating students and more than 2,000 guests gathered on the campus of Forman Christian College on November 30 were the university’s American rector and two of Pakistan’s five provincial governors. Senior officials in Lahore had already warned the public to be vigilant. The police had information that the Taliban had dispatched suicide bombers to the city to take revenge for the recent killing of their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, in a United States drone strike. Their targets would be senior government officials and foreigners, especially Americans.

“Forman is Pakistan’s leading Christian educational institution, now celebrating its 150th anniversary. Only 600 of its 6,000 students are Christian; what’s remarkable is how fully integrated into campus life they are. Times have changed. Today, Forman is an island of tranquillity for Christians in a troubled sea. With increasing frequency, Christians have been attacked and their churches vandalized.

“No one was taking lightly the seriousness of the threat at the commencement. I was told there were snipers on all the vantage points and security officers in plain clothes all over the campus. Yet, as if to insist on the normalcy of university life, the rector announced a new center with the express purpose of bridge building between different cultures and faiths.

Christians, the Lowest of the Low in Pakistan

Christians claim they can't get jobs and university positions because of their religion. Some make accusations of religious apartheid. There are worries that as Pakistan becomes increasingly Islamic, Christians will be increasingly persecuted even more than they are now. One legal aid worker in Lahore told Time that already "to be Christian is a crime in Pakistan."

In Pakistan, descendants of lower-caste Hindus who converted to Christianity centuries ago continue to find themselves marginalized and relegated to dirty or low status. A number of embassy employees in Islamabad have Christian servants, especially cooks.

Zia ur-Rehman and Maria Abi-Habib wrote in the New York Times: Centuries ago thousands of lower-caste Hindus converted to Christianity hoping to escape a cycle of discrimination that ruled over every aspect of their lives: what wells of water they could drink from, what jobs they could hold. [Source: Zia ur-Rehman and Maria Abi-Habib, New York Times, May 4, 2020]

“But when the Indian subcontinent broke up in 1947 and Pakistan was formed as a homeland for the region’s Muslims, a new, informal system of discrimination formed. In Pakistan, Muslims sit at the top of the hierarchy. Members of as one of Pakistan’s small Christian minority, Mr. Eric has now been forced into the same work his Hindu ancestors had tried to avoid through religious conversion.

“Although India has outlawed caste-based discrimination with mixed success, in Pakistan it is almost encouraged by the state.” In July, 2019 “the Pakistani military placed newspaper s for sewer sweepers with the caveat that only Christians should apply. After activists protested, the religious requirement was removed. Pakistan has taken a few steps to protect and empower some minorities, but the efforts have failed to help much. A bill was passed in 2009 to reserve 5 percent of all government jobs for non-Muslims. But over a decade later, that goal has not been reached, officials say.

Christian Sewer Cleaners in Pakistan

Zia ur-Rehman and Maria Abi-Habib wrote in the New York Times: “Manual sewer cleaners, known as sweepers, are at the bottom of that hierarchy, the most untouchable of the untouchable Hindu castes. While Christians make up only 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s population, rights groups believe they fill about 80 percent of the sweeper jobs. Lower-caste Hindus mostly fill the rest of the slots. [Source: Zia ur-Rehman and Maria Abi-Habib, New York Times, May 4, 2020]

“Municipalities across Pakistan rely on Christian sweepers. In the sprawling port city of Karachi, sweepers keep the sewer system flowing, using their bare hands to unclog crumbling drainpipes of feces, plastic bags and hazardous hospital refuse, part of the 1,750 million liters of waste the city’s 20 million residents produce daily.

“When Karachi’s municipality tried to recruit Muslims to unclog gutters, they refused to get down into the sewers, instead sweeping the streets. The job was left to Christians like Mr. Eric, known derogatorily as “choora,” or dirty. They spend hours inside the city’s sewers. Almost all of them develop skin and respiratory problems because of constant contact with human waste and toxic fumes. And for some, the job has been lethal. “I have seen death from very near,” said Michael Sadiq, legs trembling as he thought about his two-decade career as a sweeper.

“A recent spate of deaths among Christian sewer cleaners in Pakistan underscores how the caste discrimination that once governed the Indian subcontinent’s Hindus lingers, no matter the religion. Officially, Pakistan denies the existence of caste-based practices in the country. But across the country, the discrimination persists. Doctors often refuse to treat the sweepers, who are seen as unclean and untouchable.

“Mary James Gill, a former parliamentarian who runs the Sweepers are Superheroes advocacy group, has lobbied for years to pressure the government to formally ban manual sewage cleaning work. But most of the sweepers are illiterate and unorganized, she said, making it easy for the authorities to pressure them to accept the jobs as their only means of income.

Life and Death of Christian Sewer Cleaners in Pakistan

Zia ur-Rehman and Maria Abi-Habib wrote in the New York Times: “Before Jamshed Eric plunges deep below Karachi’s streets to clean out clogged sewers with his bare hands, he says a little prayer to Jesus to keep him safe. The work is grueling, and he wears no mask or gloves to protect him from the stinking sludge and toxic plumes of gas that lurk deep underground. “It is a difficult job,” Mr. Eric said. “In the gutter, I am often surrounded by swarms of cockroaches. “After a long day, the stench of his work lingers even at home, a constant reminder of his place in life. “When I raise my hand to my mouth to eat, it smells of sewage,” he said. “On a recent day Mr. Eric, 40, had been hired to clean three sewers for US$6. [Source: Zia ur-Rehman and Maria Abi-Habib, New York Times, May 4, 2020]

In August 2019, “Mr. Sadiq and his relatives, Rafiq Murad and Riaz Masih, sweepers for Karachi’s municipality, were relaxing on their only day off when they were interrupted by a call from their supervisor, ordering them to snap to it. Mr. Murad was the first to step into a gutter 18 feet deep with a rope tied around his waist. As he cleaned the detritus, a flood of putrid black water carrying sand, stones, sludge and a swarm of gases swept him away.

“Mr. Sadiq scrambled into the sewer to save his cousin but was overwhelmed by the toxic mix and fainted. Mr. Masih followed to help his cousins, but the fumes asphyxiated him, his lifeless body swept away without a struggle. While Mr. Sadiq and Mr. Murad were saved, Mr. Masih was buried so deep, an excavator worked for four hours to extract his dead body from the stinking sludge it was buried under. “This work has become so dangerous that I need to find a way out,” Mr. Sadiq said. But he, like the rest of the sweepers, is a poor and illiterate Christian, and no other jobs are open to him, he lamented.

“Two months after Mr. Masih died, two more sewer cleaners died on the job a few miles away. Another sweeper died at the beginning of this month. “Mr. Eric feels it is only a matter of time before he dies on the job. But he hopes his son can excel in school and shake off the discrimination that has plagued the family for generations. “After hearing of the deaths in the gutters, I think about what will happen to my family if I die,” Mr. Eric said. “But Jesus Christ will take care of them.”“I don’t care about my life as long as I can provide my family with a decent living.”

“Mr. Eric sends his son to school far from the crowded and segregated neighborhood the city’s sewer cleaners live in, hoping to free him of the discrimination that forced him into this work. Back home, the neighborhood lacks safe drinking water and schools. Swarms of mosquitoes, piles of garbage and overflowing gutters are the area’s only abundance. While most sweepers like Mr. Eric are illiterate, his generation has been more determined to push their children to attend school to break the cycle of discrimination, just as their ancestors tried to do when they converted. But the children still find themselves discriminated against, forced to adopt the profession of their fathers.

Pakistan Christian Girl Chained in Cattle Pen after Forced Marriage to Muslim

In January 2012, a Christian girl has been taken into care in Pakistan after allegedly being abducted by a Muslim man who forced her marry him and kept her chained up in a cattle pen. Colin Freeman wrote in The Telegraph: “The girl spent five months chained up in the pen in the yard of her 45-year-old captor's home, where she was forced to work all day clearing the animals’ dung, her family claim. They said that when rescued by police” in December 2020" she had cuts on her ankles left by the shackles put on her by captor, who is also said to have raped her repeatedly. [Source: Colin Freeman, The Telegraph, January 18, 2021]

“The case has now been taken up by human rights groups, who say the family's initial complaint to police went ignored for three months. They claim that every year, hundreds of girls from Pakistan's Christian and Hindu minority groups are abducted and forced into Muslim marriage, with the justice system often turning a blind eye for fear of offending Islamic hardliners. They say that Britain, which gives £302 million in aid last year to Pakistan, should insist that more is done to counter prejudices against minorities and challenge institutionalised tolerance of sexual abuse.

In November 2020, “the Telegraph reported on the case a 14-year-old girl allegedly kidnapped by a Muslim man who then used threats of violence to make her sign false papers consenting to marriage. When she escaped from his custody, a court initially ruled the marriage legal and returned her to her abductor's home. She is now in hiding, with the British charity Aid to the Church in Need petitioning” the British government “to allow her to seek asylum in Britain.

“The most recent case involves a girl from the city of Faisalabad, in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province, who was allegedly abducted from near her home on June 12, 2020. In a statement to Aid to the Church in Need, her father said that she had been raped multiple times. He added: "“ [she] has told me she was treated like a slave. She was forced to work all day, cleaning filth in a cattle yard. 24-7, she was attached to a chain.” He claimed that despite his repeated pleas, it was not until September that police allowed him to file an official complaint. One police officer allegedly called him a "chuhra", a term of derision for Christians that translates loosely as "latrine cleaner". Another officer, he said, threatened to register a blasphemy case against him. He also disputed the findings of a court-commissioned medical report — carried out to assess whether the girl was underage — which found she was around 16 or 17. His daughter's birth record proved she was only 12, he said. The court has placed the child in a women’s refuge pending further inquiries.”

Helping Christians in Pakistan

Akbar Ahmed wrote in the New York Times: “Those Pakistanis who do speak up for Christians have themselves become targets of violence. In 2011, a governor of Punjab Province who criticized the blasphemy laws was killed by his own bodyguard, who was then hailed as a hero. Senior politicians and the Pakistani elite have been complicit in the sectarian hostility because they fear that any of them could meet the same fate. [Source: Akbar Ahmed, New York Times, December 23, 2013]

“ The situation of the Christians will improve only if the causes of Pakistan’s instability are addressed. These include the breakdown of law and order, the dangerous gap between rich and poor, the ever rising prices of wheat and sugar, the lack of jobs, and the conduct of the American war on terror in the region.

“Pakistanis also need to be reminded of their own history of religious tolerance. What they perhaps do not realize is that the protection and rights of the Christian community are more than a constitutional obligation: The situation of Pakistani Christians is a barometer of the health of the nation. Today, the signs are not good.

Attacks on Christians in Pakistan

In recent years Christians have come under increasing attack by militants, who insist all non-Muslims are unbelievers. Christians have been the victims of anger over US-led war in Afghanistan and because they are easy targets, who can often be attacked with little fear of recrimination. Akbar Ahmed wrote in the New York Times: “The targeting of Christians comes amid a widespread breakdown of public order. The ordinary citizen — hearing stories of gangs breaking into homes and kidnapping people — thinks only of survival. Groups like the Pakistani Taliban have challenged government authority to the point where the rule of law barely exists in parts of the country like the tribal areas of the Northwest. While militant groups are frequently the culprits in attacks on Christians, a general anger against the United States has caused large numbers of people to target Christians, whom they associate with America, as scapegoats. [Source: Akbar Ahmed, New York Times, December 23, 2013]

“Perhaps the worst blow to date was the deadly assault on a historic church in Peshawar” in September 2013 “in which 78 people were killed and 130 wounded. Little wonder, then, that there is widespread fear and uncertainty among Christians. There are rumors of entire families fleeing the country, many stranded in halfway stations like Thailand, awaiting official papers to emigrate.

The Punjab has often been the site of anti-Christian violence. There has been disputes over land involving Christians and Muslims. In one town a copy of the Quran was accidently burned by a short circuit in a hospital. Christians were blamed and a girl's dormitory at a Christian school was set on fire. Another time a Quran was accidently burned and Muslim extremists sought retribution by burning 13 churches, 1,500 houses and kidnapping Christian girls. Christians say some Muslims fabricated the charge so they could seize Christian land. In another case a bitter dispute broke out over the purchase of an ice cream cone.

In 2009, 40 houses and a church were set ablaze by a mob of 1,000 Muslims in the town of Gojra in Punjab province. At least seven Christians were burnt to death. Seventeen Christians were killed in an attack on a church in Bahawalpur, 100 kilometers south of Multan, in October 2001. There gunmen opened fire inside a Catholic church, during a Sunday service, killing 16 people. Among the dead were the pastor of the church and five children, including two brothers, aged two and eight.

Three attackers arrived on motorcycles and pulled Kalashnikovs out of duffle bags. The attackers first killed a security guard outside the church before spraying the church with automatic weapons fire and then fled on motorcycles. On survivor told the Independent, “They had no mercy for the children. They had no mercy fr the women. They see that small children were being hit by bullets, but they kept firing.” Another said, Some of [the congregation] lay down. Some begged for mercy. They didn’t listen.”

Terrorist Attacks Against Christians in the 2002

In March 2002, five people, including two Americans, died and 40 people were injured, in a grenade attack at a Protestant church in Islamabad. Among the injured were 10 Americans, 12 Pakistanis, five Iranians, one Iraqi, one Ethiopian, one Sri Lankan diplomat and one German. Two attackers threw grenades into the church during a Sunday service attended by around 70 people. The dead Americans included a an American embassy worker and her 17-year-old daughter. One German survivor who took some shrapnel in her leg and managed to scramble under a pew for protection even though she was in great pain told AP, “There was blood, blood, blood. It was horrific. There was a horrible smell and we could hardy breath.”

In August 2002, gunmen raided a Christian school for foreign children in Muree, 40 miles east of Islamabad. Six Pakistanis were killed, including guards and teaching staff. The same month attackers threw grenades into a Presbyterian church in Taxila, 25 miles west of Islamabad, killing four people. In September 2002, gunmen entered the offices of a Christian welfare organization in Karachi and tied up seven employees to chairs and shot each of them in the head.

On Christmas Day in December 2002, three girls died in a grenade attack on a Presbyterian church in the northwestern village of Chanwala, 40 miles northwest of Lahore, during a service attended mostly by women and children. The attackers work burquas. Police that were supposed to protect the church failed to show up that day. Among those arrested in connection with the attack was a Muslim cleric accused of encouraging Muslims to attack and kill Christians. He reportedly said, “It is the duty of every good Muslim to kill Christians. You should attack Christians and not even eat food until you see their dead bodies,”

On March 27, 2016, Seventy-five people are killed and hundreds injured in an explosion that targets Christians near a park in Lahore.

Suicide Bombers Kill 78 Christians at a Pakistani Church

On September 22, 2013, militants linked to the Taliban killed 78 people (some sources say more) at a church in Peshawar. It was one of the worst attacks on Christians ever in Pakistan. Reuters reported: “A pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a 130-year-old Anglican church in Pakistan after Sunday Mass, killing at least 78 people. Islamist violence has been on the rise in Pakistan in past months, undermining efforts to tame the insurgency by launching peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban. [Source: Fayaz Aziz, Reuters, September 22, 2013]

“Explosions struck the historic white-stone All Saints Church in the city of Peshawar, near the frontier tribal areas where Islamist militants have their strongholds, as hundreds of parishioners, many of them women and children, streamed out of the building. “I heard two explosions. People started to run. Human remains were strewn all over the church,” said one parishioner, who gave only her first name, Margrette. Her voice breaking with emotion, she said she had not seen her sister since the explosions ripped through the area around the gate of the church enclosure.

“Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the death toll of 78 included 34 women and seven children, in remarks televised live from Peshawar. More than 100 people were wounded. “Who are these terrorists killing women and children?” Nisar said. The Taliban-linked militant group TTP Jundullah claimed responsibility within hours of the attack. “They are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them,” said the group’s spokesman, Ahmed Marwat. “We will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land.” A bomb disposal source said two blasts had been set off by a pair of attackers. More than 600 parishioners were inside the church for the service.”

Christians Targeted by Blasphemy Laws and Vigilantism in Pakistan

Christians have been the victims of Pakistan’s strong anti-blasphemy laws. Zia ur-Rehman and Maria Abi-Habib wrote in the New York Times: “One form of abuse commonly meted out on Pakistan’s religious minorities has been to accuse them of blasphemy, a crime that is punishable by death in the country, and that at times has been used to settle personal disputes. In one infamous case in 2010, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, was sentenced to death, accused of blaspheming Islam. It later emerged that her Muslim colleagues had ordered her to fetch water as they harvested berries on a hot day. When she drank from the communal cup, they accused her of polluting it and an argument ensued. The case was eventually thrown out for lack of evidence, after Ms. Bibi spent eight years on death row and her family was forced into hiding by the death threats they received. [Source: Zia ur-Rehman and Maria Abi-Habib, New York Times, May 4, 2020]

According to Associated Press: “Blasphemy is a serious crime in Pakistan that can carry the death penalty but sometimes outraged residents exact their own retribution for perceived insults of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Pakistan is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim and people of other faiths, including the nation’s small Christian community, are often viewed with suspicion. Such accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan can prompt huge crowds to take the law into their own hands. Once an accusation is made it’s extremely difficult to get it reversed, partly because law enforcement officials do not want to be seen as being soft on blasphemers. According to Human Rights Watch, there are at least 16 people on death row for blasphemy and another 20 are serving life sentences”. In 2012 “there was a rare reversal of a blasphemy case. A teenage Christian girl with suspected mental disabilities was accused of burning pages of the Quran. But she was later released after a huge domestic and international outcry about her treatment. A local cleric where she lived was arrested and accused of planting the pages in her bag to incriminate her, a rare example of the accuser facing legal consequences. However, he was later freed on bail. [Source: Associated Press, March 9, 2013]

“While Muslims are frequently accused of blasphemy, members of Pakistan’s small Christian community are especially vulnerable to the accusations, said the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Zora Yusuf. Only in Christian cases will violent mobs punish the entire community for the perceived crime of one Christian. She said often these blasphemy cases are personal grudges or disputes masquerading as religious fervor.“Most of the time there are other motives involved,” she said, such as scaring off Christian residents to grab their property.

According to the Pakistan-based Dawn newspaper: “The religious chauvinism that has become rampant” in Pakistan “is nowhere in better evidence than in the case of Fanish Masih.” In September 2009, “in village Jaithikey near Sialkot, allegations spread that Masih and four other young men had desecrated a copy of the Quran. Requiring no proof, a slavering mob burnt down a church and ransacked nearby houses. The terror felt by the areas Christian residents was such that the entire community — some 30 Christian households amongst over a 100 Muslim homes — abandoned their dwellings and fled. [Source: Dawn Editorial; September 17, 2009]

“Masih was found dead in his cell...with jail officials claiming he had committed suicide. The exact circumstances of Masih’s death are shadowy and merit a thorough inquiry: the method of “suicide” described so far by the jail authorities raises many questions. Moreover, having taken him into custody, it was the duty of the authorities to keep Masih safe.”

”Outbreaks of communal tension – especially that stoked by allegations of blasphemy – can have a snowball effect. This incident comes on the heels of the tragedy in Gojra, where several Christians were killed and many homes were torched by a similarly enraged mob. As the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan pointed out in a recent statement, “allegations of blasphemy and defiling of religious scriptures… do not warrant vigilante attacks. Nor do they absolve the government of its primary duty to protect all citizens.” In the Jaithikey incident, a case has been registered against unknown people for burning down the church.”

Assassinations in Pakistan of Christian Critics of Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws

In March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti — a Christian critic of Pakistan's blasphemy laws — was killed by assassins who left leaflets signed 'Taliban al-Qaida'. Declan Walsh wrote in The Guardian: Self-described Taliban gunmen have shot dead Pakistan's minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, an advocate of reform of the country's blasphemy laws, as he left his Islamabad home. Two assassins sprayed the Christian minister's car with gunfire, striking him at least eight times, before scattering pamphlets that described him as a "Christian infidel". The leaflets were signed "Taliban al-Qaida Punjab". [Source: Declan Walsh, The Guardian, 2 March 2011]

Bhatti's 22-year-old niece Mariam was first on the scene. "I rushed out to find his body covered with blood. I said "uncle, uncle" and tried to take his pulse. But he was already dead," she said at Bhatti's house, extending a bloodstained palm. The sound of wailing women rose from the next room. Bhatti's assassination was the second killing of a politician in Islamabad over blasphemy in as many months, following the assassination of the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer outside a cafe a few miles away” in January, 2011. Dismayed human rights activists said it was another sign of rising intolerance at hands of violent extremists. "I am sad and upset but not surprised," said the veteran campaigner Tahira Abdullah outside Bhatti's house. "These people have a long list of targets, and we are all on it. It's not a matter of if, but when."

“The only Christian in Pakistan's cabinet, Bhatti had predicted his own death. In a farewell statement recorded four months ago, to be broadcast in the event of his death, he spoke of threats from the Taliban and al-Qaida. But he vowed not to stop speaking for marginalised Christians and other minorities. "I will die to defend their rights," he said on the tape released to the BBC and al-Jazeera. "These threats and these warnings cannot change my opinions and principles."

“Lax security did not help. Witnesses and police said Bhatti was travelling with just his driver when he came under attack less than 50 meters from the Islamabad home he shares with his mother. A small white car carrying gunmen blocked his way. After an initial burst of fire they dragged Bhatti's driver from the vehicle, then continued firing through a side window. "It lasted about twenty seconds," said a neighbour, Naseem Javed. "When I rushed out I saw the minister's driver standing by the car, shivering, and his niece weeping and shouting." "They fired 25 bullets," said a police officer beside a bullet-pocked pavement, holding a handful of brass Kalashnikov bullet cases.

“As they left the gunmen flung pamphlets on to the road that blamed President Asif Ali Zardari's government for putting an "infidel Christian" in charge of a committee to review the blasphemy laws. The government insists no such committee exists. "With the blessing of Allah, the mujahideen will send each of you to hell," said the note.”

In November 2010, “Bhatti joined Salmaan Taseer in championing the case of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death last November for allegedly committing blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad. "This law is being misused," Bhatti told Open magazine at the time. "Many people are facing death threats and problems. They're in prison and are being killed extra-judicially." The government later distanced itself from the blasphemy reformists, repeatedly stressing that it had no intention of amending the law, leaving Bhatti and Taseer politically isolated. Now that both men are dead, angry supporters say the government bears some responsibility for not protecting them politically, if not physically. "The government distanced itself from anyone who took a stand on blasphemy. I blame them for being such chickens," said Abdullah.

“Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch said Bhatti's death represented "the bitter fruit of appeasement of extremist and militant groups both prior to and after the killing of Salmaan Taseer". The embattled Christian community also voiced concerns about its safety. "We feel very insecure," said Bhatti's brother in law, Yousaf Nishan. "In this society you can't open your mouth, even if you want to say something good, because you're afraid who you might offend." The assassination raised fresh questions about the safety of Sherry Rehman, a parliamentarian who also championed reform of the blasphemy laws, and who has been in semi-hiding since January.

Shahbaz Bhatti: Pakistan's Christian Minister Assassinated for His Opposition to Blasphemy Laws

Annabelle Bentham wrote in The Guardian: Shahbaz Bhatt was “shot by a gunman outside his mother's Islamabad home, defending the cause to which he had dedicated his life. He was assassinated for his unrelenting opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws and the injustices and intolerance they encouraged. In his official capacity, he represented the interests of Pakistan's religious minorities. However, Bhatti also stood for those subscribing to the vision of Pakistan's founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, characterised by pluralism, freedom of religion and the rule of law. [Source: Annabelle Bentham. The Guardian, March 10, 2011]

“Born to Roman Catholic parents in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab, Bhatti grew up in Khushpur, a town in Faisalabad district. He was one of six children. His father, Jacob, was a teacher. In his teens, Bhatti experienced the spiritual awakening to which he attributed his life's work, saying he had decided to give his life to serve others, as he believed Christ had done for him.

“Bhatti founded the Christian Liberation Front (CLF) in 1985 while studying for his bachelor's, then master's, in public administration at the University of Punjab, Lahore. He later went on to earn a master's in political science and a diploma in international relations. CLF sought to restore the rights of Pakistan's religious minorities and promote tolerance. The CLF initiative was a brave decision given the deteriorating treatment of non-Muslims under the regime of General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-88). The group experienced violent opposition from the start. “Undeterred by this, and by the death threats and state intimidation that came later, Bhatti undertook everything from prison visits and aid distribution to political advocacy and legal support. In 1992 CLF launched the first national campaign against the blasphemy laws. For this campaign, Bhatti first joined forces with the veteran activist, educationalist and war hero Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry, who was to become his lifelong mentor.

“In 2002, Bhatti, Chaudhry and others founded the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), and Bhatti was unanimously elected to lead this nationwide coalition of minority representatives and NGOs. APMA was founded on the back of a landmark campaign, led by Chaudhry, which united over 500 minority representatives from across the country. They succeeded in convincing the government to replace the separate electorate system, described by some as "religious apartheid", under which religious minorities could vote only for candidates of their own faith.

“Bhatti received international awards for his leadership of CLF and APMA, but he was at his best working on the frontlines of activism. When the Christian villagers of Charsadda called him in fear of imminent attack from local extremists, he travelled to the north-west to be with them. When eight were killed and more than 100 houses destroyed in the Punjab town of Gojra in 2009, Bhatti (by then a government minister), refused to leave the police station until the crimes were registered.

“Bhatti's move into politics was an unlikely but strategic decision, taken in the perceived best interests of Pakistan's religious minorities. Despite joining the Pakistan People's party in 2002 and gaining Benazir Bhutto's respect, he had turned down three earlier governmental opportunities. Bhatti was elected to the National Assembly in 2008 and assumed the role of federal minister for minorities affairs, now a cabinet-level position for the first time. He was the only Christian minister. While privately lamenting the distance his job placed between him and those he represented, Bhatti capitalised on his ministerial position. His achievements include a 5 percent minorities quota in government jobs, the first minority seats in the Senate and a 24-hour minorities helpline. He gained the respect of international leaders, as seen in the global reaction to his death.

“Bhatti did not live to see the fulfilment of his ultimate goal, the repeal of the blasphemy laws. He had painstakingly negotiated amendments since 2009, but much of this progress ceased after the assassination of Punjab's governor, Salmaan Taseer, in January. Bhatti intended to continue, and his reappointment to the new cabinet last month was encouraging.

“Ever the proponent of Jinnah's founding vision, Bhatti pioneered interfaith initiatives. He built bridges. He spoke at large mosques at the invitation of senior imams and eventually, in July 2010, secured a groundbreaking joint statement from religious leaders to denounce terrorism. He further launched a network of "district interfaith harmony committees" to encourage dialogue and unite communities through common concerns. Bhatti had big plans and saw Pakistan leading the way for other countries. In his own words, he wanted to "make this world beautiful by delivering a message of peace, togetherness, unity and tolerance". He is survived by his mother, four brothers and a sister.”

Christian Couple Burned Alive After Blasphemy Accusations

In November 2014, a young, illiterate Christian couple in the Punjab in Pakistan was lynched and burned by a mob after being accused of committing blasphemy based on false charges of tossing out pages of the Holy Quran along with the rubbish. International Christian Concern reported: Shehzad Masih and his pregnant wife, Shama, were accused of desecrating a Quran at the brick kiln where their family worked and lived in the village of Kot Radha Kishan. A mob of hundreds of enraged Muslims descended upon the brick kiln and surrounded a small building where the couple had taken shelter. The mob broke into the small building, beat the Christian couple, and burned them alive on the brick kiln. [Source: International Christian Concern, January 14, 2019]

In November 2016, five people were sentenced to death over burning of Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan. AFP reported: “An anti-terrorism court (ATC) sentenced five people to death over the killing of a Christian couple who were lynched and burned in a kiln after being falsely accused of blasphemy. The deaths of Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi caused outrage in the country and saw other Christian families living near their home in Punjab flee the area in fear.

“Witnesses described how an angry mob of hundreds of people set upon the couple near Kot Radha Kishan, attacking them and then throwing their bodies into a brick kiln. It is unclear whether they were still alive when tossed into the kiln. [Source: AFP, November 23, 2016]

Riaz Anjum, the lawyer representing the couple’s family, said a total of 103 people had been charged in the case. But the court in the eastern city of Lahore had acquitted 90, including the owner of the brick kiln. He had been accused of locking the couple up as they tried to flee for fear they would default on their debt to him.

Apart from the five sentenced to hang, eight others were given two years’ imprisonment. “The five people awarded the death sentence were involved in dragging, beating and burning the couple while the other eight played a supportive role according to the judgement,” Anjum said. Senior prosecutor Khurram Khan confirmed the ruling.

In March 2018, 20 suspected in taking part in 2014 Kot Radha Kishan lynching were acquitted by the ATC. reported; Shahzad and Shama were burned alive in a brick kiln by a frenzied lynch mob ─ incited by announcements made from mosques in the area ─ ranging between 400-1,000 people for their alleged role in the desecration of the Holy Quran. Both husband and wife were brick kiln workers, and the woman, a mother of three, was pregnant at the time. Police had registered a case against 660 villagers after the incident. The court today acquitted 20 suspects, giving them the benefit of doubt [Source: Rana Bilal,, March 24, 2018]

Pakistani Mob Torches Dozens of Christian Homes After Christian Accused of Blasphemy

In March 2103, a Pakistani mob torches dozens of Christian homes in Lahore after a Muslim man accused a Christian of blasphemy. Associated Press reported: Hundreds of people rampaged through a Christian neighborhood, torching dozens of homes after hearing reports that a Christian man had committed blasphemy against Islam’s prophet. The incident started when a young Muslim man accused a Christian man of committing blasphemy by making offensive comments about the prophet, according to Multan Khan, a senior police officer in Lahore. A large crowd from a nearby mosque went to the Christian man’s home on Friday night, said Khan. Police registered a blasphemy case against the man after the crowd gathered and demanded action, the officer said. [Source: Associated Press, March 9, 2013]

“Fearing for their safety, hundreds of Christian families fled the area overnight. Khan said the mob returned on Saturday and began ransacking Christian homes and setting them ablaze. He said no one in the Christian community was hurt, but several policemen were injured when they were hit with stones as they tried to keep the crowd from storming the area.

“Akram Gill, a local bishop in the Lahore Christian community said the incident had more to do with personal enmity between two men — one Christian and one Muslim — than blasphemy. He said the men got into a brawl after drinking late one night, and in the morning the Muslim man made up the blasphemy story as payback. He said the Christian community handed over to police the accused man, identified by police and Gill as Sawan Masih, when police came to the neighborhood to investigate. Then the Christians all locked up their houses and went to relatives in other areas. He said the mob was armed with hammers and steel rods and broke into houses, ransacked two churches and burned Bibles and crosses.

“Poor people were living here. They have lost all of their belongings,” he said. “Where can they go now?” The scene was chaotic. An Associated Press reporter said roughly 150 homes were torched. One man was seen carrying a dog and some puppies from a burning house. Refrigerators, washing and sewing machines, cooking pots, beds and other household goods were ripped from homes, smashed and burned in the streets. One Christian couple from the neighborhood said they went to their Muslim neighbors’ house on Friday night after people came looking for the Christian man accused of blasphemy. Ishaq Masih said the Muslim neighbors sheltered the couple for the night and then gave them money to leave the area in the morning.

“After the mob dissipated, residents began to slowly return to their burned-out homes. They have burnt each and every thing in my whole house. Nothing is left here. I don’t know why this happened,” said Samina Riaz. “Now we don’t have even enough to eat.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (, Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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