By Jawad Mazhar, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife) -- A former federal minister and key human rights official has demanded more political influence for minority Christians in Pakistan's parliament amid fresh reports of anti-Christian violence and kidnappings of believers.
"There is selection instead of election for the ten reserved seats for representatives of (religious) minorities in the National Assembly," at a time when they need to defend their rights more than ever, said Julius Salik, who now leads the World Minorities Alliance (WMA) in Pakistan.
His group held protests in Islamabad to demand more influence for Christians, who he claims face "continued exploitation," despite promises from current and previous governments to grant them political and legal rights to counter mounting Islamic extremism in the country.
Salik's comments came as news emerged Friday, July 11, that a Christian father in Pakistan is in a legal battle with kidnappers for the custody of his pre-teen daughters, who allegedly have been forced to convert to Islam, the latest in a series of incidents, Christians said.
On Thursday, July 9, a judge in Pakistan’s Punjab province reportedly ordered further investigation into the kidnapping of Saba Younis, 12, and Aneela Younis, 10, who went missing on June 26 in the small town of Chowk Munda.
The kidnappers filed for custody of the girls at the local police house on June 28, saying the sisters had converted to Islam and their father no longer had jurisdiction over them. The father of the two girls, Younis Masih, was apparently told by police not to complaint and remain silent.
The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), an interdenominational organisation working for Pakistani Christians who it says “are being persecuted because of their faith” also expressed concerns over the plight of Danish Masih, a 25 year old Christian worker who it claims was recently forced to leave the Armaments factory in the town of Attock because of his faith in Christ.
"During last year he was constantly nagged by some co-workers to convert to Islam. He ignored their requests until one day in May this year one of his co-workers told canteen staff not to serve Danish because he was an infidel refusing to convert to Islam," CLAAS said.
"The situation got worse when Danish stood up and stated that he believed in Christ and did not see the need to change his religion. This was enough to anger his co-workers, who conspired against Danish spreading rumors that he had committed blasphemy against the prophet Mohammad."
Soon a large group of factory workers allegedly gathered, “shouting that Danish and his family should be stoned and or brunt alive.” The manager of the factory kept Danish safe until the police arrived, but urged Danish and his family leave the area. “With help from CLAAS, Danish and his family went into hiding and are now in a safe place....”
CLAAS said its lawyers "are looking for ways to help the Masih family return to a normal life." Danish does not want "vengeance" but is praying for those who persecuted him, the group added.
However, it is difficult for Pakistani Christians to obtain asylum abroad. The Britain office of CLAAS told BosNewsLife that it has learned of two men, identified as G. Gulrukh and Dr. M. Baloch, who are among several Pakistani Christians who fled "fearing for their lives and now have been refused asylum in the UK."
"A few years ago Mr. Gulrukh and his family were targeted by extremists for publishing (Christian) literature," said CLAAS UK Coordinator Nasir Saeed. "As a result he was accused of blasphemy and had to leave Pakistan. Dr. M Baloch converted to Christianity and came to the UK with his wife and three children, but his asylum application has been denied twice by the Home Office," he told BosNewsLife in a statement. British officials have not yet reacted to the latest developments.
Dr. Baloch comes "from a very strong and rigid Muslim family background who believe that deserting Islam is a huge insult to the prophet and a disgrace to his family. The family have denied him and it is very likely that if he returns to Pakistan he might be killed," Saeed explained. He said he was surprised by Britain's reaction. "Dr. Baloch is a (medical) doctor and could contribute positively to the British society."
However, if it's up to former Pakistani Minister Salik au$thorities will ensure there is bo reason for Christians to flee by giving them more political rights. Pakistani Christians, he said, are forced to live "in the stone age..." (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).
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