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PAKISTAN: Christian Family Continues to Suffer Following Recovery of Abducted Daughter

PAKISTAN: Christian Family Continues to Suffer Following Recovery of Abducted Daughter

Abductions, sexual assaults, forced conversions, and forced marriages continue to be a significant abuse faced by Christians in Pakistan.

On 27 January 2019, Maria, 16, was abducted from a relative’s house in Punjab, Pakistan, by a group of Muslim men. For several weeks, Maria was raped multiple times in captivity, forced to convert to Islam, and married to one of her captors. According to Maria, she was severely beaten by four men after she initially refused to convert to Islam.

When Maria’s family came to know that she was missing, they immediately filed a report with the local police. Through several weeks of police efforts, Maria was found. However, this was only the beginning of the legal battle Maria and her family had to wage against her captors. It was also several weeks before Maria was allowed to return home to her family.

The legal battle started in March 2019 with Maria stating for the record that she had not freely converted to Islam or freely married her captor. Instead, she reported that she was forced to do these things against her will and under threat of harm.

A month later, Maria appeared before a court and repeated this statement. After this hearing, the court allowed Maria to return home to her parents. Fearing threats and a repeated abduction, Maria’s family moved to a new neighbourhood where they remain in hiding.

Abductions and assaults on women and girls from Pakistan’s religious minority communities, like that experienced by Maria, are unfortunately common. According to a study by The Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, an estimated 1,000 women and girls from Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian community are assaulted, kidnapped, forcefully married to their captor, and forcibly converted to Islam every year.

The issue of religion is also often injected into cases of sexual assault to place religious minority victims at a disadvantage. Playing upon religious biases, perpetrators know they can cover up and justify their crimes by introducing an element of religion.

Following the successful recovery of victims, some victims and their families report continued suffering. Perpetrators often avoid prosecution for their crimes and can openly harass victims and families with impunity.

In Maria’s case, this harassment has forced the family into hiding. Unless they receive assistance from Pakistani authorities, the family will likely remain in hiding until Maria’s captors lose interest and give up looking for her.

Source: International Christian Concern

  • Ask the Lord for justice for Maria and her family. Pray the Lord will protect them and provide all their needs. Pray too that He will strengthen their faith.
  • Pray the community will show Maria the care, love and sympathy she deserves.
  • Ask that the authorities will do more to ensure the protection of vulnerable women and girls and will do all they can to pursue justice on their behalf.

Post your prayer in the comments below.

EGYPT: Christian Woman Kidnapped, Converted

EGYPT: Christian Woman Kidnapped, Converted

An Egyptian Christian woman, Rania Abd al-Meseh, was kidnapped on 23 April by two veiled women in Monufia Governorate. A video began circulating three days later of Rania announcing that she has converted to Islam.

The video has been met with alarm by several Christians, who observe that her body language during the video appears that she is under great stress and saying the words under duress.

Rania is the mother of three daughters and her social media accounts show frequent posting of Christian material. Her brother Remon told local media that, “My sister was wearing the cross necklace and left home. If she was wanting to convert to Islam, she would have left the necklace at home.”

Christian women are often kidnapped in Egypt by extremists who force them to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men. It is difficult to bring these women home – should their return be facilitated – and resume life as before because of the regional honour-shame culture.

In some cases, Christian women do indeed convert and marry Muslim men of their own free will, oftentimes further complicating these problems. Many impacted families do not feel the police seriously investigate these kidnappings nor hold the abductors accountable. The police often credit it to a misunderstanding or situation created by the woman’s own free will.

Source: International Christian Concern

  • Pray the Lord will strengthen, uphold and protect Rania and her family. May the truth of the situation be brought to light.
  • Pray for justice for women kidnapped in Egypt and ask that the Lord will bring a cultural change to allow victims of this crime to be treated with care, respect and sympathy.
  • Pray for the protection of women across Egypt. Pray the authorities will do more to uphold the rights of the vulnerable.

Post your prayer in the comments below.

PAKISTAN: High Court in Pakistan Rules in Favour of Underage Marriage

PAKISTAN: High Court in Pakistan Rules in Favour of Underage Marriage

On Monday, 3 February, the Sindh High Court in Karachi ruled that men in Pakistan can marry underage girls. This ruling, which the two-member bench based on their interpretation of Sharia law, flies directly in the face of the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act which forbids marriage below the age of 18.

The ruling was made during the latest court hearing into the kidnapping, forced conversion and marriage of Huma Younus, a 14-year-old Christian girl.

According to local reports, Huma was kidnapped by Abdul Jabbar from her family’s home on 10 October. Following the kidnapping, Huma’s parents were informed via text message that their daughter had converted to Islam and had married Jabbar.

In an effort to rescue their daughter, the family argued that the marriage to Jabbar was invalid under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. The Christian couple supplied the court with baptismal and school documents proving Huma is 14 years old.

However, at the hearing on 3 February, judges Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro and Irshad Ali Shah ruled that the marriage between Huma and Jabbar is valid because she has already had her first menstrual cycle.

“Once again, justice has been defeated and, once again, our state has shown itself unable to treat Christians as Pakistani citizens,” Nagheena Younus, Huma’s mother said.

The issue of kidnapping, forced conversion, and forced marriage is one of the major issues affecting Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan. According to a 2014 study by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, as many as 1,000 Christian and Hindu women and girls are targeted every year in Pakistan.

Sources: International Christian Concern, Aid to the Church in Need

  • Intercede for Huma and her family who have been forced to endure this unbearable situation. Pray for justice.
  • Pray the Lord will rise up powerful voices in Pakistan against this ruling and that it will be quickly overturned.
  • Pray for the protection of vulnerable girls and women throughout Pakistan.

Post your prayer in the comments below.

A Father’s Crime

A Father’s Crime

As villagers watched Ritesh exchange the emptiness of worshipping idols for a relationship with the one true God, they accused him of converting his family to Christianity.

For 35 years, Ritesh regularly performed puja at a temple in southern India. Like millions of other Hindus who practise the ritualistic prayer, he lit sticks of incense, displayed colourful flowers, listened to meditative music and worshipped Hindu idols.

He often spent more than an hour in the temple meditating on Hindu texts. But as much as he longed for spiritual growth through these rituals, he and his family never felt a connection with their gods or found the peace for which they were yearning.

Then, one day in 2016, after a lengthy discussion about how to know God, a local shopkeeper named Pascal gave him a Bible. Ritesh read the book daily and soon learned that finding peace with the true God would mean losing peace with his neighbours.

Finally Meeting God
On an invitation from Pascal, Ritesh attended his first church service a few months after receiving the Bible. He was deeply moved by the Scripture readings, the sermon and the way the Christians worshipped.

“It was like something interesting for me … a miracle of God,” he said.

“He came to life. He came into the world and gave His life. I heard all those things. This is something interesting, not like the other things. That made me interested, and I started going to church.”

Ritesh’s wife, Vanya, joined him at church about four months later, and his three children began to attend on alternate Sundays so neighbours wouldn’t realise they were going to church.

Despite his precautions, one Sunday morning Ritesh noticed a villager quietly monitoring his family’s activities. On another Sunday, several villagers seemed to be watching, and finally the whole village was talking about them.

Pascal had started a Bible study with Ritesh around the same time, and one evening they studied Psalm 115. Ritesh was immediately struck by the contrast between Hinduism’s lifeless idols, which “have ears but cannot hear”, and the living God who hears and answers our prayers. After several months of reading the Bible, he abandoned the idols and their empty rituals to take up his cross and follow Jesus.

“I knew there is the real God and the things we were worshipping were created from Him,” Ritesh said, “so I decided to stop worshipping the created thing and start worshipping the creator God.”

Pascal, who had experienced persecution from relatives and neighbours because of his Christian faith, warned Ritesh about the cost of following Christ. “Knowing God is not so easy,” he told him. “You will face a lot of trouble and problems. In this village you have to be very careful.”

But Ritesh courageously accepted the idea that he might one day face persecution. “Whatever problems will come,” he said, “let them come soon.”

Pressured to Deny Christ
Under the watchful and scornful eyes of his neighbours, Ritesh and his family continued to grow in faith. They enjoyed going to church because they felt God’s presence there.

“The first time when I went to church … God spoke to me and I had peace in my heart,” Ritesh’s daughter said. “I used to get angry very much. I had a short temper and it all went away.”

The family read the Bible together from 5am to 8am every day and as they grew closer to the Lord, they saw Him bless their family in a variety of ways. At the same time, however, they also experienced increasing hostility from their neighbours. One day, men from a local Hindu temple warned Ritesh that if he and his family did not return to Hinduism they would be reported to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organisation that advocates for a purely Hindu nation. The RSS often deploys large mobs of angry Hindus to intimidate and beat newly converted Christians.

A few days after receiving the warning, a large group of RSS members and Hindu leaders gathered at Ritesh’s house around 7pm. When he came to the door, the Hindus reinforced their previous warning, giving him and his family four days to reject Christianity. One of the men even entered Ritesh’s home, taking his Bible, journal and mobile phone. When the group left, Ritesh noticed that about 60 of his neighbours had also gathered outside, and vicious rumours about his family quickly spread throughout the village.

Six days later, Ritesh arrived home from work to again find a large crowd outside his house. Suddenly, some men grabbed Ritesh, his wife and their children and dragged them to a local temple.

Once inside, they were forced to sit down in a row facing 10 Hindu leaders. “Who do you worship,” they demanded, “Jesus or the Hindu gods? Are you a Hindu or a Christian?”

As the family sat in silence, one of the Hindu leaders clarified their intent. “We will kill you if you don’t leave Jesus,” he threatened.

The men then began beating Ritesh and Vanya, while the terrified children began to cry. One of the leaders threw Ritesh’s Bible on the ground. “Who is the person who gave you this Bible?” he asked. “Tell us!”

Ritesh remained silent.

Finally, after several hours of harassment, the Hindu leaders let the family go home, but their ordeal wasn’t over. People outside the temple had told police that Ritesh was a criminal who converted his family to Christianity, so the authorities soon arrived at his house to arrest him.

After Ritesh was taken to jail, the Hindu leaders continued to intimidate Vanya, suggesting that her husband could be killed the next day and she would have no one to take care of her and the children. They again ordered her to return to Hinduism.

“No,” she replied. “Whatever my husband does, we are going to follow it. We will not go back.”

Police held Ritesh at the police station for a while, before walking him outside to a waiting vehicle. Fearing what might come next, Ritesh began to pray.

“I am surrendering my life to You, Lord,” he prayed. “If I die, I will die for You. If I live, I will live for You.”

New Life
To Ritesh’s relief, the police officers drove him to his home. They then questioned him and his family for four hours, asking them why they had left Hinduism to become Christians.

The curious villagers again gathered at Ritesh’s home, many taking photos and videos as police interrogated them inside. Finally, the officers walked them out of the house and led them back to the temple, where they tried to force them to perform a Hindu ritual and return to Hinduism. When the family refused, the police let them go.

While Ritesh and his family may never again be accepted by their neighbours, God has restored some sense of normality to their daily lives. VOM helped them find a new home where they feel safe and provided Ritesh with a rickshaw so he can better support his family as a rickshaw driver.

Ritesh occasionally sees some of his former persecutors when they use his rickshaw services, but they usually stay quiet when they recognise him. He simply shows them love, because he wants them to know the love of Christ that has given him peace with God.

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PAKISTAN: Series of Sexual Assaults

PAKISTAN: Series of Sexual Assaults

Five young Christian girls have been sexually assaulted in different parts of the province of Punjab in just the last two months.

Christian women and girls are among Pakistan’s most vulnerable members of society. In many cases, they are considered soft targets for abuse and assault because they are a double minority. To the assailants, these victims follow the wrong religion and are members of the weaker gender.

On 2 July, Saira Shoukat, age 15, was sexually assaulted by Muhammad Jafar and Ateequllah in Muzaffarghar. After several attempts by Shoukat’s family, local police finally registered a First Information Report against Jafar and Ateequllah. This simple process, which initiates a police investigation, took almost a month for the local police to complete. However, the victim’s family is still facing significant problems as they are being pressured into withdrawing the case.

Days later, on 8 July, Suneha Sajid, a 14-year-old Christian girl, was falsely accused of stealing gold worth approximately 1,500,000 PKR ($14,200) by her Muslim employer in Shahdara, located near Lahore, in order to cover up a sexual assault. According to local reports, Sajid resisted the assault and threatened to file a complaint. For this, she was locked in a room and beaten several times. Finally, to cover up the incident, Sajid was accused of stealing gold.

In August, Yasmeen Ashraf, age 15, and Muqadas Tufail, age 14, were kidnapped and raped by three men in Kasur. The pair of Christian girls were taken when they were on their way to work as domestic workers.

Also in August, another young Christian girl, named Kanwal, was kidnapped, raped, and forcefully converted to Islam by a group of Muslim men and a cleric in Lala Musa, located in the Gujart District. After reuniting with her family, Kanwal shared that she had been beaten, sexually assaulted, and threatened with the deaths of her brothers if she refused to convert to Islam. As with Shoukat’s family, Kanwal’s family is also facing ongoing threats from the assailants.

Following Pakistan’s third Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations, in which violence against women and religious minorities were highlighted, Pakistan promised to combat all forms of discrimination and violence. The country promised to reinforce the relevant legal framework, run awareness campaigns, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.

Source: International Christian Concern

  • Intercede for the victims. Ask the Lord to comfort them and their families. Pray He will heal them of their physical and emotional trauma.
  • Pray against the stigma often associated with these kinds of attacks. May these victims instead be treated with compassion and justice.
  • Pray those in authority will do all they are able to ensure justice and protection of vulnerable minorities.

Post your prayer in the comments below.