Part 1: Escape of Pastor Arthur: Ramification of Pakistan Blasphemy Laws. By Dr. Stephen Gill

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 Note: It was written 19 years ago. It is still timely. Some names have not been identified for obvious reasons. Next in this series is Bishop John Joseph who ended his life to end the blasphemy laws of Pakistan

 I met Pastor Arthur 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 with the family of Dr. Rupwate, a Christian from Maharashtra State of India.  He was   a minister of a church. As it is my practice, I asked Dr. Rupwate to introduce me to South Asian Christians. He mentioned Pastor S. Arthur, a name that sounded familiar, but I could not recall how   I became familiarized with him.  The more I tried to scratch my memory, the more the name grew distant.  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. 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 buffet 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 whereabouts 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 weak 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. Weak, 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 cellThose 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. 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 anywhere. 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.  

(To be Continued...) 

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