Part 2: Escape of Pastor Arthur: Ramification of Pakistan Blasphemy Laws. By Dr. Stephen Gill

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The fanatics   who have killed their own daughter, can easily kill SK   and her family.  She has become 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.  The 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 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. 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.

Pastor Arthur has seen death face to face in many shapes for telling a Muslim girl about Christ.  He has been through a series of mental and physical tortures for sharing his beliefs. Those tortures can mutilate the rationality of a being.   Still  this  soul is  sane  and  still a good provider for his family as  a  husband and father.  He has been pastoring  a congregation ever since he has landed in Canada. I became anxious to meet this soul  and his congregation again. That  opportunity came in the year 2002  when the HACC Ministry  from Hamilton invited   me to present my poems at   their first  national gathering of Asian poets and singers on November 16.  The HACC Ministry  of   Hamilton  asked the Writers Union of Canada to sponsor  my  reading.  A day before  that,  PEN Canada was arranging a gathering at the University of Toronto for which I was selected to participate.

To be continued in Part 3; 

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