Islamabad (AsiaNews) – A Christian family has been on the run for almost ten years, finding temporary refuge but no safe haven. Jobless and desperate, they are unable to meet their own needs, as they continue to be threatened, hounded, and attacked because they want to live a Christian life and raise their children in accordance with Christ’s teachings.
After hearing their tragic story, AsiaNews decided to present it. Names, places and other details have been changed to protect the family, but their fate is part and parcel of the fight for religious freedom and the rights of Christians in Pakistan.
In May 2006, Amina, a 29 year-old Muslim woman, married 34-year-old Salamat Masih, a Christian. Her family was against it from the start, especially since they had already arranged her marriage to a trusted Muslim man.
However, Amina would not give in to her family’s pressures, and decided to marry the man she loved. The two also wanted a Christian wedding, but no pastor was willing to do it for fear of retaliation by her relatives.
To stop the marriage, Amina’s family filed a case against the would-be husband for rape and kidnapping. Thus, fearing arrest, Amina and Salamat decided to elope in accordance with Islamic law. This meant that Salamat, a Christian, had to convert to Islam since Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslims.
Two Muslim men, Naveed Asim and Kareem Ahmad, acted as witnesses to the Islamic wedding. Proud of converting a Christian to Islam and of the greater standing they achieved among Muslims, they also took on the responsibility of monitoring the newlywed’s life.
With this purpose in mind, the two “guardians” forced the couple to move to Sadar, a town near Karachi, and live according to Islamic traditions, including fasting during Ramadan.
Still, Amina and Salamat did not want to live as Muslims and sought help from a local Church to arrange a Christian marriage and live among local Christians.
Eventually, the pastor of a local church agreed to register their marriage as Christian on 26 October 2006. The couple also found refuge among local Christians because of threats of reprisal from Muslims.
In the following years, the couple had two daughters. Yet, their secret did not last and threats started again, especially from the two men who had taken on the task of acting as their “guardians”.
For Amina, constant threats and pressures proved too much and she miscarried a third child. This further aggravated the conflict because the father chose to give his son a Christian burial rather than laying him to rest in a Muslim cemetery. The family’s enemies had one more reason to persecute them.
Fearing for their life, the family went from city to city, finding temporary shelter in various homes. Muslims from Amina’s community, especially the two “guardians”, kept tracking them down, proffering fresh threats and exerting more pressure on them.
Two years ago, threats turned into an actual attack. Gunmen shot at Salamat, in the leg, then drove their motorcycle over the injured limb. Only the presence of bystanders forced the attackers to flee, thus preventing them from finishing off their victim.
Because of the family’s difficult economic circumstances, Salamat was never properly treated and his leg has not fully healed. Such an impairment has limited his ability to work, making family life that much harder.
The couple’s relatives are no longer able to help for fear of reprisals and attacks by Muslims. The same goes for co-workers and friends who helped them and gave them refuge. The fear of an attack has proven stronger than the desire to help.
Since March 2015, the family has been hiding in one of the country’s largest cities. Since the family has been tracked down once and attacked before, the location has been kept secret for security reasons.
Attempts to file a case with police for the violence and threats against the family have fallen on deaf years. Law enforcement agencies have refused to deal with it.
Forced into hiding for weeks on end, Amina and Salamat have been unable to work and lead a normal life. Although a local NGO has helped them with their immediate needs, the couple and their children have gone to bed hungry on several occasions.
For Amina’s family, marrying a Christian and converting to Christianity are dishonourable acts, hence the threats. This is the more acceptable since her attackers have walked away, scot-free, ready to strike again.
However, not everyone has stood idly by. Citing the Constitution of Pakistan, the Asian Human Rights Commission has called on Pakistani authorities to respect the principle of equality of citizens, and guarantee freedom of religion. Likewise, it has called for action against the police officers who failed in their duty to protect the family.