An ever-deteriorating situation for Christians in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. “In the ‘Rome of Pakistan,’ Christians say they fear speaking out, worry about the future,” by Nahal Toosi for The Associated Press, April 22:
KHUSHPUR, Pakistan “” A church bell, not a mosque loudspeaker, calls people to prayer along the dung-lined streets and inside the crumbling houses of this village. The body of Pakistan’s most recent Christian martyr is buried in its graveyard.
Khushpur is almost entirely Catholic, and for decades it has been an oasis for Christians in a nation where 95 per cent of people are Muslim and Islamist extremism is spreading. The village has produced so many priests and nuns that some call it the “Rome of Pakistan.”
But Islamist militants’ recent murder of federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian son of the village targeted for opposing Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, has rattled the peace. As they prepare to observe Easter, many of the 5,300 villagers say Pakistan’s Christians face more pressure than ever.
“You live with fear,” said Rose Dominic, 45, a math teacher. “You can’t express yourself.”…
Khushpur has risen to prominence among Pakistan’s Christian villages partly because of its reputation for producing “martyrs.”
One of them was Bishop John Joseph, a human rights activist who shot himself in 1998 to protest the same blasphemy laws Bhatti wanted to change. The laws impose the death penalty for insulting Islam, and rights groups say they are frequently used to persecute religious minorities or settle personal disputes.
Joseph’s body is buried in the nearby city of Faisalabad, but his bloody clothes were interred in the graveyard in Khushpur under a large marble slab. Just a few meters away is Bhatti’s grave, topped with a cross bearing his picture, and still topped with fresh flowers daily.
Bhatti led the ministry for minorities, and what little political power Pakistan’s Christians had was almost entirely vested in him. Fliers left at the scene of his March 2 murder in Islamabad were signed by Taliban and al-Qaida militants who said they targeted Bhatti because of the blasphemy issue.
The mention of Bhatti’s name still brings tears in Khushpur, where one woman said people loved him more than their own sons.
“People feel and people think their hope died,” said Father Anjum Nazir, the parish priest. “If he is killed, what will be security for other people?”…