By ACNS staff
Christians in Pakistan worry that the persecution they have experienced to date may be "just the tip of the iceberg".
In the latest newsletter from the Diocese of Peshawar, a list of 22 incidents of violence against Christians in the country since 2013 accompanied a warning that "things are likely to get worse" because of the possibililty of the presence of an extremist group called "Daish" (ISIS) in Pakistan.
Along with the 2013 twin suicide bombing of All Saints' Church, Peshawar - that killed 119 people and injured many more - the writer compiled other attacks on Christians in Pakistan from information provided by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
These included an assassination attempt on a Christian lawyer in Lahore; a 58-year-old man killed for allegedly blaspheming Islam; shops belonging to Christians in Islamabad being burned down; several people being killed for converting to Christianity; and Christian girls raped and, in some instances, forced to convert to Islam.
The most recent incident was the burning of a Christian couple, Shahzad and Shama Bibi, in a brick kiln following trumped up blasphemy charges. [Read a report about it here]
November's special edition of the Frontier News newsletter, with the headline The Diocese Condemns!, contained a report of the protest march earlier in the month led by the diocese. It started at St John's Cathedral and ended at the Peshawar Press Club where church leaders held a press conference to condemn the murders.
The newsletter author wrote, "According to the sources, Shahzad and his wife Shama Bibi came to Chak-59 for their livelihood. The owner of the kiln Yousaf Gujar, over a dispute about a non-payment of advance money, locked the couple in a room and called upon the villagers. He blamed the couple for blasphemy. After severely beating them, the infuriated mob threw them in the brick kiln and set them afire.
"Once again, the personal vendetta against poor Christians is changed into the allegation of Blasphemy Law of Pakistan. This section of the law is always used, rather misued against the Christians for their persecution and extra judicial killings in Pakistan."
Speaking at the press conference Bishop Munawar Rumalshah, Bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Peshawar, said the incident was "a national disgrace" and called the Government to bring the killers to book.
He added, "The Christians of Pakistan are law abiding citizens, and they respect other people's beliefs. Christians believe in peaceful co-existence of different religions and always play a proactive and positive role for interfaith harmony in the region."
The diocese's newsletter concluded: "Nowadays, talking against the blasphemy law in any manner has itself become an act of blasphemy. This is just the tip of the iceberg, things are likely to get worse as there are rumours of the presence of an extremist group called "Daish" (ISIS) in Pakistan."