AGONIZING ESCAPE OF A PASTOR FROM PAKISTAN. PART ONE. By Dr. Stephen Gill. Canada

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I met that pastor on September 23 in 2001. At that time I was Vice President of the Christian Association of South Asians. The organization asked me to attend a meeting of its local chapter in Hamilton, Ontario. After the meeting, I stayed

At the breakfast table it began to emerge slowly that S. Arthur was persecuted in Pakistan for converting a Muslim girl, RM. Both names had come to my attention during my research about minorities, particularly about Christians. I had wanted to visit Pakistan to study the situations more closely. The suicide of Bishop John Joseph was the responsible factor for triggering my interest further.

Dr. Rupwate scheduled our meeting with Rev. Arthur over a buffet in a Chinese restaurant. I like Chinese buffets because for a person like me who cannot identify Chinese foods by name, a buffett is the answer. I knew I was not going to be hungry for lunch, because normally I do not eat my breakfast. However, I ate at the Rupwates because of their love and the appetizing smell of the preparation. I was anxious to meet Rev. Arthur, because he was a person who could give me first hand knowledge of his persecution and how Pakistan was growing increasingly more intolerant toward minorities.

In our brief meeting at lunch, I came to know that Rev. Arthur had worked with a church in Pakistan. In his congregation, he had SK, a Christian girl, who was a classmate and friend of RM, a Muslim girl from Shahdra, Lahore, Pakistan. Both girls were in their early twenties and in the second year in a local college.

SK introduced RM to Christianity. When RM showed her keenness in Christianity, SK introduced her to Pastor Arthur for additional understanding. Somehow, the parents of RM came to know about the new interest of their daughter. They told her to stop going to church and to stop seeing SK. When RM refused, they designed to deal with their daughter in another way. They found a man and forced her to marry him. The idea was to keep RM in a Muslim atmosphere. RM refused to marry the man mainly because she was a Christian at that time. When their pressure failed, they confined her movements to the bounds of her home. Meanwhile they continued their preparations for her wedding.

RM found means to escape. Her father and brothers and other relatives went to the house of SK, her Christian friend, and then to the home of Pastor Arthur to find the whereabout of RM. They accused him of converting young people, luring them with money and a promise to send them to foreign countries. His activities, they said, were against Pakistan and also against the Muslim religion. They blamed the Pastor for abducting the girl. They also said that the Pastor was a spy, especially of the UK government. They told him that it was his responsibility to produce the girl. If he failed to produce the girl before that evening, they would take away his daughters by force.

The pastor tried to convince them he did not know anything about their daughter RM and he was innocent. Boiling in madness, those Muslims did not want to listen to any reasoning. They gave repeated warnings to the pastor. They lived about two or three kilometers from his house.

In the evening, Pastor Arthur went to the house of RM to sympathize with her parents and to know if they were able to get any news about their daughter. It was just a courtesy visit about seven in the evening during the summer month of June in 1997. The front yard of their house was crowded with people. He saw the Christian girl SK, her mother, father and the older sister all tied with iron chains to a tree that was in the middle of the yard. Their faces were swollen and they had visible bruises all over. They looked tired, helpless and some bearded men were beating them.

The pastor became speechless at the unexpected sight. As he tried to recover from that state of his shock, four or five people, also bearded, rushed with sticks, iron rods and started hitting him. The pastor had a copy of the Bible in one hand. They snatched the Bible and threw it aside. He lost his conscious.

They dragged him into a room in another location. There was a man in white clothes who was a clerk at the local police station. He thundered to ask the pastor the whereabouts of RM. He told the pastor that he would be killed and no one will ever come to know that. He used filthy words, slapped and insulted him further. While beating, he demanded the girl. He said RM was his sister, and if the pastor did not produce the girl immediately, the whole family of the pastor will be killed. Later the pastor came to know that he was in the house of M.B. Tarrar, a local transport businessman who was a relative of the Muslim girl RM.

Feeling week and giddy, the pastor fell on the ground. They began to kick him. They covered his eyes with a piece of cloth and took him to the police station. The officer on duty, sub inspector Mohammed Younis, removed the cloth from his eyes. He demanded RM from him, shouting at the top of his voice that RM was his daughter and the pastor should produce the girl at once if he wanted his life and also the life of his family spared. His eyes were red with fury. He also insulted the pastor. After that he asked the relatives of RM to take the pastor away for interrogation, adding not to leave him alone until he told the truth.

They covered the eyes of Pastor Arthur again and pushed him into a car. They drove for about fifteen minutes to a place where they threw him inside a room. They removed the cover from his eyes and left. Glancing around, the pastor shivered to see sticks, iron rods and a bed. Week, thirsty and confused, he kneeled down and began to pray. He was perspiring profusely. He was in that state when the door opened with a bang. They were furious. They removed his clothes in a rage and started beating him, kicking him all over and using abusive language. They broke four of his ribs. He was kept for three days in that dark room without water and food and without his clothes.

During those three days, they dragged the pastor to different places to trace RM. They went also to the relatives of the pastor, thinking she might be hiding there. From one place they found his wife, daughters and children. They insulted and hit them and then took them to the police station for interrogation. They were kept for about six hours and then let go, but they kept the pastor. They had a special slipper with nails to hit his hips. One police officer stood on his body and the other kept hitting him till he lost his conscious. They locked him up in a criminal cell.

Meanwhile, his children passed on the information to their friends in England. Those friends in England started putting pressure on police officers through influential persons. As a result of the pressure, the police registered a First Information Report, shortly called FIR, against the pastor. It was a formal complaint. His wife managed to collect twenty thousand rupees to bribe the police. Police demanded forty thousand to arrest his son and not to beat him. She came up with the extra twenty thousand rupees. In spite of that bribe, the police kept torturing the pastor, often putting him upside down. They also arrested his son and tortured him as well. They put father and his son upside down from a tree that was in the center of the yard of the police station.

These insanities continued for about sixteen days. During this time they were able to trace out RM. She was in a woman shelter. She told the police and also the court that the pastor and his son and SK were innocent. She had left her home of her own accord. The reason that she gave for her disappearance was the forced marriage that her parents had arranged. She said that she was a Christian for which no one ever compelled her.

On the basis of her statement, the pastor and his son were released. They were released also because they bribed the police with forty thousand rupees. In addition to this huge sum, they paid around thirty thousand rupees to the court. Due to the bribe and lack of evidence as well as the statement of RM, they were let go.

When they reached home, they came to know through a member of their church that RM was killed with a gun and that they were proceeding toward the house of the pastor to kill them. The Arthurs were advised to run away from their house. To do that they divided their family and escaped to different places, hiding wherever they could.

For about seven months they kept hiding in different houses at different locations, ending up in Karachi that is a seaport located in the province of Sindh. It was about twenty hours journey by train from Punjab. For a family to hide within Pakistan with limited financial resources and with the help of a tiny minority of frightened Christians was not that easy. It was not possible to hide in other provinces for lack of Christian population. In the province of Blouchistan, there were hardly any Christians. In the North West Frontier Province, they could be noticed easily because of the nearness of the location, and because of the different language and culture.

Karachi seemed to be a better place to hide because of its population of Christians although they were only three percent and their churches had been attacked. Karachi, Pakistan=s largest city that teemed with activities, has the population of around eleven million. Situated on the Arabian Sea, it is the capital of the province of Sindh. It is the major financial and manufacturing center, and is also a site of violence among political, religious and ethnic groups.

Afflicted with fear, the Arthurs traveled at night with the hope of getting lost in the populated jungle of Karachi. They were exhausted with heat, lack of rest, hunger, tortures and the demon of fear of the approaching death by those Muslims if they find them out. Wounded in mind and body, they caught buses and trains under the cover of darkness. Those who have been to Karachi in summer know that during the day it has scorching heat and in the night it swarms with hot winds and mosquitoes, and people need special protection to have a comfortable sleep. The Arthurs did not have the comfort of a home for months. The entire family had only one concern. That concern was to escape the grip of those inhumans. That escape depended on a miracle.

That miracle happened on November 28 in 1997. His church was affiliated with a church in England. His children informed the minister of that congregation over the phone about the arrest and tortures. That church worked to take them out of Pakistan with the help of a lord in the House of Commons. On November 28 in 1997, the Arthurs were able to come to England. The Arthurs stayed in London for a couple of days. It was again a miracle to land in Canada where they did not know anyone.

Shortly after his arrival in Canada, Pastor Arthur started a church called HACC that means truth. Now he pastors a congregation of Christians from the subcontinent of India and Pakistan. His whole family is involved with the ministry. They often arrange gatherings and gospel singing. They entertain church goers every third Sunday with food. They work with non Christians also. Their home is open for anyone anytime. Their ministry does not tire them. He says the miraculous escape from Pakistan is the second birth for him and his family. He is first thankful to God and secondly to the Christian Reformed Church and also the Canadian Government for the experience of this new birth.

He says he was fortunate to escape from the clutches of those fanatics. Not everyone is fortunate. There are several who have been killed or are living under threats without any hope. One example is SK who was tortured with her family and is still under the threat for sharing her Christian creed with her Muslim friend RM.

Rev. Arthur has tried in every possible way to get SK out of Pakistan. The Christian Reformed Church, her main sponsor, is also trying, but the Canadian High Commission in Pakistan is not issuing her a visa. She has been rejected three times for asylum. Her case is tied with the case of the pastor. The pastor and his family were able to come out but SK and her family are still suffering back in Pakistan. When she goes to the Canadian High Commission in Islamabad for a visa, she is turned down with one excuse or the other. She is deeply frustrated and has lost the balance of her thinking. She and her parents and other members of her family are in hiding. They cannot work anywhereB they have lost the peace of the night. Their home has been put to fire. They have been living under the shadow of threats and fear. One may ask why SK is not allowed to come out of that shadow in Pakistan? Why she is not receiving a visa when a church is taking responsibility to look after, including her fare? In the case of SK , there will not be any burden on society because a church has taken the responsibility for her. The fanatics who have killed their own daughter, can easily kill SK and her family. She has became so desperate that she once sprinkled kerosene on her clothes and was ready to burn herself. The Pastor phoned to dissuade her from suicide. He advised her from Canada to have faith in God who will find a way to get her out.

When SK was in custody, police forced the pastor to touch her private parts. When he refused, they hit the pastor. He remembers the evening when he saw her tied to a tree in the front of the house of those Muslims. She was crying. While recounting those tortures, the pastor often got lost somewhere, perhaps thinking of their past and rescue. She was in police custody for about ten months. Here women are often abused. There are several reports including the reports of human rights groups, about abuses of women in police custody. Women from minority groups are more vulnerable. The women who have been implicated in the blasphemy laws are even more vulnerable.

SK suffers from nightmares and expects any time to be killed. She is not normal anymore. She must be about twenty-four years old in 2003. She was attending a college with RM for a university degree before the days of her persecution. Her formal education has gone and so are her dreams. She often gets up in the night from her sleep and shouts as if there were bearded men around to rape her. She depends on others for finances. Who would marry her in that plight ? She has no future in that nation. Even her parents and brother and sisters suffer. They are also under constant fear. There is no freedom for them. The land where they were born and where their ancestors have been buried has become an open prison for them.

The church and home of Rev. Arthur in Pakistan have been illegally possessed by a group of zealots. All the signs and boards of the church have gone. His relatives have been attacked. They are also living in hiding. Whenever he meets a person, he asks to find ways to help SK. He has written several letters to the government of Pakistan without any result. Pakistan is a nation that is beset with the clouds of bribery and religious bigotry at every level of government. The Government of Pakistan is silent. So is the Government of Canada. Churches are silent. So is humanity.

On July 1, 2003, I wrote a letter to the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, to support the petition Rev. Arthur made to him on December 12 of 2002. The petition was to regain the property of his church from a Muslim group that had grabbed the property forcefully. I mentioned in my letter that Rev. Arthur was the church minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Shahdra, Lahore. Part of this location was the residence of pastor Arthur and his family. He inherited this property from his ancestors who had lived in the land long before Pakistan came into existence and that his ancestors did not come from abroad as several Pakistanis have. I added in that letter that Rev. Arthur had to flee that land of his ancestors because of his persecution for performing his duties as a pastor. The magnitude of his agonies began to mount when a Muslim girl, RM, was brought to him by SK , a member of his congregation, for additional understanding of Jesus. The parents and relatives of RM got hold of Rev. Arthur and tortured him and later they handed him to police who tortured him further, breaking some of his ribs. Rev. Arthur and his family took refuge in Canada.

80-year-old mother-in-law of Rev. Arthur looked after the property for a while, living with her son and family in the house that is attached to the church. When the group of Muhammad Bashir Joya tried to kill her son, they had to hide out of the village for the protection of their lives and also of his family. The group threatened to kill the brother-in law of Rev. Arthur.

On April 18 in 2001, Rev. Arthur phoned Muhammad Bashir Joya and his son Muhammad Jahangir from Canada to request them to give the church back to his congregation. Both were rude and used threatening language, refusing to give the church back. Later Muhammad Bashir Joya and his group tried to kill the brother-in-law of Rev. Arthur. He was able to escape with one wound on his ankle from a gunshot. Terrified, he is hiding himself moving from place to place. The congregation was silenced with threats.

Rev. Arthur mailed copies of his petition to several government authorities in Pakistan, including the Deputy Superintendent of Police of Ferozwala Circuit and Superintendent of Police of District Sheikhupura of Panjab for action. But nothing happened. On October 3, 2001, he sent a letter to Mr. Iftikhar A. Irain, Consulate General of Pakistan in Toronto, asking for his assistance to receive his church and dwelling back. Nothing happened again. The lives of his relatives and congregation in Pakistan remain in danger and the church is still under the illegal possession of Muhammad Bashir Joya and his son Muhammad Jahangir. The members of the church meet for prayers in private houses under the constant fear from Muhammad Bashir Joya and his group. This incident of grabbing the property of a church is not the first nor the last. One weapon that land grabbers use is the sword of the blasphemy laws. One example where they have used this weapon is Ayub Masih who languished in a death cell for years. He is alleged to have told his accuser to read Solomon Rushdie. The day a case was registered against Ayub Masih for this flimsy fabricated reason, Christian families from that village ran to other places to save their lives. Ayub Masih was arrested, tortured by the police and the home and belongings of the family were transferred to his accuser. Years later, a defence attorney told Pakistan=s Supreme Court that Ayub Masih was a victim of a plot to grab his land. The court agreed and ordered Masih to be released.

The tragic episode of Rev. Arthur reveals another book of shame in the library of torture of Christians in Pakistan. The first chapter in this book of shame was RM, that young Muslim girl who has lost her life in the hands of her real brother. This tragedy was acted on the stage of the blasphemy laws that sharpen the sword of terrorism.

The blasphemy laws of Pakistan, claim to be based on the Islamic creed, prescribe a sentence of a few months and a fine of a few thousand rupees for those who blaspheme against God. But these laws prescribe death by hanging to those who blaspheme against Prophet Mohammed. There is no other sentence for them, except a death sentence. For fanatics, apostasy is an insult to Prophet Mohammed and therefore an apostate is sentenced to death if the matter goes to court. In most cases, the apostate goes through a long line of tortures, losing his or her life at the hands of the mob or relatives, including parents. Several leaders of Pakistan, including a high court judge, have encouraged people to kill blasphemers on the spot. The death of RM is an outcome of these laws. RM met her tragic end because she expressed her right to accept a path that was different from the path of her parents and of the majority class. Her right was denied to her through a drastic action that blew out the candle of her life. RM, an enlightened Muslim student of second year in a college, was kept under lock and key by her parents when they came to know that she had accepted Christ. Somehow she managed to escape. A couple of days after that RM was found and killed by her older brother for changing her path. The tragic episode does not end here.

RM was introduced to Christ by her girl friend SK who was her classmate at a local college and a member of the congregation of Rev. Arthur. The parents and relatives of RM dragged the parents and sister of SK to the front of the yard of a house, chained and tortured them, keeping them hungry and thirsty in scorching heat of June when the sun shines with its full fury. There was no one around to help those defenceless souls. Later SK, the Christian girl of around twenty two years old, was handed to police who badly abused her sexually. Due to hopelessness and inhuman treatment, she has become a vegetable.

What is the crime of SK to be abused sexually by police officers? Why some wolves had to damage the flower of her youth for their lust ? Why she had to be disgraced and bring misery to her parents for sharing her beliefs with others? Is self-expression a crime? Does she deserve this destiny? She is still in hiding and her abusers are free to damage the nerves of other flowers? The Canadian Government has been refusing to issue her a visa though a church is willing to sponsor her. This conversion has made one young soul dead and another young soul a living dead. The Arthurs left their homeland with the help of Christians abroad to lead a fresh life on a fresh soil with fresh hopes, while their relatives and congregation back in Pakistan wander as lost sheep in the wasteland of chaos and fear.

Why the whole family of Rev. Arthur had to suffer for a belief that is based on peace and forgiveness? Why police had to break his ribs, and torture his children? The Arthurs are not completely healed physically and emotionally and they are not likely to heal. Is there a compensation for the wounds they yet carry? What is the fault of Rev. Arthur? Why he had been beaten and wounded for discharging his duties as a pastor in the light of the constitution of humanity and in conformity with the human rights declaration of the United Nations? He was not breaking the laws of decency or the laws of a country.

Why his congregation has to lose their church and their properties in Pakistan to the greed of the evil birds? Why the laws of Pakistan are in favour of majority? Why the governments of Pakistan are afraid of these land grabbers? Why the Arthurs had to run away in panic from the land where they were born and brought up and where the bones of their ancestors are still buried and the land they love so dearly? Why a pastor was treated as a criminal for sharing the philosophy of unconditional love, the ideology of nonviolence and for discarding the culture of the gun. The Muslim girl RM was still a citizen of Pakistan when she was brutally murdered by the hands that rocked her cradle. She still ate the same food, spoke the same language and had the same physical features when she accepted Christ. The only difference was within herself. She achieved a greater peace within her because she got what she sought. Is it loathsome to achieve a greater amount of peace within? What the Arthurs should do is a question?

What is the crime of the entire congregation of that church who has lost the place of worship to a gang of zealots? The possession of a church property illegally and by force can be described through the vocabulary of terrorism. The entire tragedy is a flagrant violation of international human rights and a breach of obligations that Pakistan owes to the international community. By encouraging such outlaws, the government of Pakistan has encouraged the evil birds for more bloodshed.

The apostasy of RM has ruined the lives of several Christians in Pakistan. RM has lost her own life at the hands of those who rocked her cradle. SK, her girl friend, has vegetated due to the inhuman pains and sexual abuses while in police custody. Even other members of her family have been tortured and are still in the prison of terror. They are not free to move around within the country in which they were born. Pastor Arthur was beaten, disgraced, had his four ribs fractured. He has lost his ancestral property to fanatics. His relative have been suffering still in Pakistan. The Arthurs are fearful even in Canada.

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