Christians under siege: Pakistan
Photographed for DER SPIEGEL
A ray of light bathes Ashiq Masih. He holds with his hands the portrait of his wife. She is currently at jail. On June 2009 his life turned into a nightmare when his wife was sentenced to death for blasphemy. Asia Bibi is 45 years old and, a Christian and a mother of five children. The case, which dates back to June 2009, relates to a simple incident when she was asked to fetch water while working in the fields. A group of Muslim women laborers had objected saying that she was a non-Muslim and, therefore, should not touch the water bowl. Later, the women had approached a local cleric and alleged that Asia had made derogatory remarks about Prophet Mohammed. Asia was arrested in Ittanwalai village and prosecuted under section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which carries the death penalty.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws carry a potential death sentence for anyone who insults Islam. Pakistan’s Penal Code section 295, or “Blasphemy Law,” dates back to India's British rulers in 1860. Pakistan inherited these laws after the partition of India in 1947. Between 1980 and 1986, a number of clauses were added to the laws by the military government of General Zia-ul Haq. He wanted to "Islamicise" them and also legally to separate the Ahmadi community, declared non-Muslim in 1973.
Punjab’s governor, Salman Taseer, and minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, believed she had been falsely accused and were later murdered for supporting her. Salman Taseer was murdered by his police guard. Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated for speaking out against the law. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for that murder. The assassination of these two high-profile Christian politicians put the plight of this minority in the spotlight.
The Pakistani Christian minority feels vulnerable to militant attacks. Christians have suffered many attacks in recent years and most of them are living with fear after this attack.
In 2005, hundreds of Christians had to flee their houses in Faisalabad city after one of the residents was blamed for having burnt the pages of the Koran and the entire neighbourhood was attacked by a mob wielding axes and sticks. Several churches and Christian schools in the city were set on fire. In 2009, nine Christians were burnt alive in Gojra in Punjab after claims that a Koran had been desecrated. Muslim mobs rioted and attacked Christians in Lahore earlier 2013 as police looked on, while one of Bishop Peters's own churches, in Mardan, was set on fire in September amid national protests against a film that defamed the Prophet.
On September 22, 2013, two suicide bombers carried out an attack outside of the church at the end of a Sunday service, killing almost 114 people and injuring 170. It was one of the deadliest attacks ever on the Christian community in Pakistan. The double suicide bombing at the All Saints Church in Peshawar, capital of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, has stoked fears and concerns that anti-Christian violence is spreading beyond Punjab
Conditions for religious minorities in Pakistan are dire. After Hindus, Christians are Pakistan's second-largest minority group representing about 1.6% of the country's overwhelmingly Muslim population. The Christian community remains in the poorest sector of Pakistani society, consigned to menial jobs. Entire villages in parts of Punjab are Christian, with inhabitants working as laborers and farmhands.