Islamabad (AsiaNews) - For more than 20 years, a Pakistani Christian family has been living in a constant state of fear, the victim of threats from extremist groups and under constant pressure from the radical fringe to convert to Islam. A tragic story in a country increasingly hostage to the Islamists, in which young people prefer Sharia law and the military to the democratic model proposed by the West and branded as "corrupt." In recent times, threats and pressures against the Zafar family have increased. And the father has been forced to lock one of his daughters indoors for fear she will become a victim of kidnapping, as was the case in 1998 when her older sister was abducted and subjected to torture.
Sadiq Masih Zafar, born in
Muridke, a town in the district of Shaikhupur, in the province of Punjab, was
appointed to oversee the construction of a church between 1988 and 1989, by the
Lahore Church Council that had
previously purchased the land. Since
then Islamic extremist groups have showered him with threats and injunctions,
ordered him to stop building places of worship and convert - with his family
members - to Islam.
In 1990, a raid of fanatics led to the demolition of the structure and the confiscation of the land. In the context of the assault, the Islamists also violently attacked Zafar and some relativesHis reporting of the incident to police proved futile, who closed the case without proceeding to any investigation. A similar result, a few months later, when the man filed a complaint against the daily threats of fundamentalists who want him to convert to Islam.
In 1998, Zafar's daughter,
Sarwat Naheed was kidnapped while returning home and subjected to violence and
torture that resulted in the breaking of her legs and deep wounds to the head. The
girl also had signs of strangulation and was found abandoned and unconscious in
a field. A
few days later his son Azeem Zafar was stopped by a group of people, who beat
These two incidents prompted the Zafar family to flee to Lahore, in search of a quiet place. However the extremists hunted them down, and discovering their new home, continued to threaten them with death. On 27 March 2004 the threats became facts: masked men burst into the house and took the family members hostage, threatening them with death. The raid ended with no casualties or injuries, but even this time the police refused to open an investigation.
After a few years of relative calm, the nightmare of the extremist threat returned to haunt the Zafar family, forcing the father to isolate his daughter Asma Tosheeba at home for fear that she too could be kidnapped by criminals and suffer the same violence as her brother and sister. Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr. Suleman John, priest and activist in Lahore, appeals to the authorities to protect the safety of the family. "It's a very serious case - says the priest - and result of religious intolerance. Extremists do what they want, knowing they will go unpunished. Punjab remains the epicenter of sectarian persecution."