Beaten, harassed, taken to court … that's the daily risk for millions of Christians denied basic religious freedoms
Pastor Rashid Emmanuel, 32, and his brother Sajid ministered to the poor in Pakistan despite the obvious risks. Earlier this year Rashid wrote in his newsletter, “I am very happy to let you know that Lord Jesus is blessing our ministry and we are winning many new souls for Lord Jesus.”
On 1 July a man claiming to be a school teacher asked to meet him at the railway station. When Rashid arrived, he was surrounded by police, who showed him photocopies of a document apparently bearing his signature and arrested him for blaspheming Muhammad.
When Sajid went to protest his brother’s innocence, he too was arrested. The following week hundreds of enraged Muslims paraded through a predominantly Christian area calling for the death of the two brothers.
Two weeks later handwriting experts indicated that the evidence against them was unreliable, but the following Friday it was reported that some mosques had been heard to call for the homes of Christians to be burned.
Rashid and Sajid were due to appear in court on 19 July. They were outside when five masked men opened fire. Sajid died on the spot; Rashid a little while later.
Sadly this story is not an isolated one. Right now millions of Christians are at risk of persecution around the world. Open Doors is active in around 50 countries, supplying Bibles, leadership training, advocacy services and practical support for Christians suffering for their faith.
Our vision is of a world where every persecuted Christian is remembered and supported by other Christians. And we want the Church here in the UK to play its part: that means not only responding to the needs of the Persecuted Church, but also learning from their experience of what it means to follow Jesus.
In recent weeks Open Doors has received numerous reports of shootings, rapes and beatings in Pakistan – and many of these stories are linked by accusations made under the blasphemy laws.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws prohibit “acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class of citizens”, and state that whoever “defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) shall be punishable with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall be liable to fine.”
It is easy to make an accusation under these laws. Some use them to settle scores with neighbours, whether they are Christians or Muslims. Extremists use the laws to stir up violence.
It is not a problem unique to Pakistan. In Egypt, an identity card is issued at birth, identifying the baby as a Muslim, Christian or Jew. Some Muslims who have become followers of Jesus want to change their ID card to show they are Christians.
But one believer explains, “Because I went to court to request this change, I have received death threats. The court is looking for a reason to deny my request. They are seeking more restrictive laws, which will support their position. And they will deny I can change my card to say I am a Christian.”
Principally, it is Egypt and Pakistan who have promoted the Defamation of Religions Resolution, tabled at the United Nations by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which links 57 countries with majority or significant Muslim populations.
It allows governments the power to determine which religious views can and can’t be expressed in their country, and it gives the state the right to punish those who express ‘unacceptable’ religious views as they see fit. In effect, it makes persecution legal.
It aims to criminalise words or actions deemed to be against a particular religion, especially Islam. It has the effect of providing international legitimacy for national laws that punish blasphemy or otherwise ban criticism of a religion. It is due to be voted on in the UN General Assembly at the end of this year, and this year there is a real possibility it could be defeated.
Open Doors has launched a global petition for religious liberty that calls on the members of the United Nations to reject the Defamation of Religions Resolution. We are hoping for 100,000 signatures from across the UK that can be presented at the UN, and leave its members in no doubt that this Resolution is a threat to religious liberty.
The Open Doors Right to Believe campaign is designed to support these believers through informed and committed prayer, campaigning action to petition the powerful on their behalf, and gifts that will bring practical help that meets their needs.
Freedom is precious! Let's use it for our brothers and sisters.
To sign the petition and for more information and resources about the Right to Believe campaign visit www.opendoorsuk.org/inspiremag
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