THE only female presbyter-in-charge in the Church of Pakistan has warned of the widespread persecution of Christians in the country.
The Revd Jane Shaw, an Anglican woman priest from England, has said that persecution of Christians is rife. Some of it is violent, but most of it is more insidious. “It’s largely low-level harassment: not being shortlisted for jobs because you’re a Christian, or, if you do get the job, your colleagues making you so miserable that you have to leave. Also, in some cases, Christian businessmen have been told that they’ll only get the most lucrative contracts if they convert to Islam.”
Other harassment includes the bullying of Christian children at school, the eviction of Christians from accommodation without notice, and eviction of occupation of Christians’ land by influential community members.
Her comments came as it emerged that Asia Bibi, a Christian mother who has been sentenced to death by a court in Pakistan for blasphemy (News 26 November), now also has a price on her head. A radical Muslim cleric, Maulana Yousef Qureshi, has promised 500,000 Pakistani rupees (£3700) to anyone prepared to kill Mrs Bibi. Her family has been forced to go on the run to avoid attacks.
Mrs Bibi’s case has provoked international outcry against the country’s harsh blasphemy laws (News, 3 December). Pope Benedict XVI has made a public call for her release. It is hoped that she may win a pardon from the Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zadari.
Ms Shaw said this week that after the anti-Christian riots in Gojra last year (News, 7 August 2009), which resulted in the death of eight Christians, she found families living in a graveyard after being evicted from their homes. She was also told that Christians who had been dismissed from their jobs during the riots were never reinstated.
One result of such harassment is that those families with the resources to do so are either moving abroad or are sending their children overseas to study. Few of her former congregation can see a future for their children in Pakistan, Ms Shaw said. “Many go and don’t return.”