Tag: Lahore

Pakistan medical superintendent ‘orders Christian staff to recite Quran’

Staff of the Government Mian Mir Hospital protesting against the medical superintendent accused of, amongst other things, forcing Christian staff to memorise and recite Quranic verses while at work. Photo: World Watch Monitor

The medical superintendent of a hospital in Pakistan has been accused of forcing its Christian staff to memorise Quranic verses. Article 20 of the Pakistan Constitution guarantees that no-one can be forced into any religious practice or belief against his/her own faith.

Dr. Muhammad Sarfaraz was appointed Medical Superintendent of Government Mian Mir Hospital in Lahore in early April.

Marshal Ashiq, 23, who works as a security-in-charge at the hospital, submitted an application to Mustafabad Police Station seeking protection from – as well as legal action against – Sarfaraz for forcing him to memorise Quranic verses.

A local English-language newspaper reported that Christian staff were marked as absent if they did not attend the hospital’s morning assembly – such as is held in schools – which all staff (and even patients) were asked to attend to listen to Islamic preaching.

In addition, Christian ward assistant Adnan Masih says he was also slapped by the superintendent for not memorising Quranic verses.

Mr. Ashiq said in his application to the police that, when he clearly rejected obeying Dr. Sarfaraz’s order, Sarfaraz had him detained for two days as punishment.

However, he told World Watch Monitor that the police seem to be trying to “cover up” his application.

Earlier, an investigation team headed by the North Cantonment Circle Deputy Superintendent of Police, Kamran Zaman, had conducted an inquiry into misconduct by the medical superintendent, and had sent the report to the Punjab Health Department for further action.

Based on that inquiry, the Cantonment Superintendent of Police, Rana Tahir, met Mr. Ashiq and other concerned Christians on 9 May.

“Tahir took serious note of the incident and during our meeting informed several high officials, including the Secretary of Health and Health Minister, on the phone that the situation warranted an urgent response,” Mr. Ashiq told World Watch Monitor. “I expressed my concern: ‘What if [Sarfaraz] accuses me of defamation of Islam because of refusing to memorise the Quran?’ The police assured they’d take care of this, and indicated that the Health Department is probably going to remove Sarfaraz from his position. But until [he leaves] I am not now going to work at the hospital.

“The medical superintendent has reached out requesting reconciliation, and does not want me to press charges. As a poor Christian, I cannot take a legal stand against him. But I went to the police because I feared he may implicate [me] in religiously motivated criminal proceedings, such as in the blasphemy laws.”

An investigation has been launched into the alleged misconduct of Medical Superintendent Sarfaraz (centre). Staff members want the government to remove him. Photo: World Watch Monitor

Deputy Superintendent Zaman, who headed the investigation team, told World Watch Monitor that it had found Sarfaraz guilty of misconduct with hospital staff “but [my] team could not confirm if the superintendent actually forced the Christian staff to memorise the Quran.” However, the senior police officer confirmed that Sarfaraz had ordered a morning assembly, although he added: “When the Lord Mayor of Lahore, [retired] Colonel Mubashir Javed came to know about this, he ordered a stop to it.”

However, World Watch Monitor has found no other independent evidence that Colonel Javed had intervened in, or even inquired about, the incident.

Mr. Ashiq, however, also confirmed that the morning assembly was abruptly stopped, without exactly explaining the reason. Paramedical and medical staff had held a protest against Dr. Sarfaraz, but he is still hospital superintendent.

Mr. Ashiq said that on 6 April he was put in charge of security. “Sarfaraz told me there was no issue of security, so all security guards water parts of the grounds through the day. Then he ordered me to recite verses from the Quran. At that time I didn’t argue. But when he asked me later, I clearly told him that I cannot do this,” he said.

The most senior nurse, Sister Sheeba Mehtab, told World Watch Monitor that after he took charge, the superintendent met with all the nurses.

“When he came to know that I and another nurse were Christians, [Sarfaraz] asked two Muslim nurses to help us memorise a Quranic Sura,” she said. “I didn’t argue, but then the two didn’t mention it to me. I was on a round with the superintendent when we passed Marshal Ashiq. The superintendent made him stop and asked him if he was doing what he’d asked him. When Marshal refused [to recite the Quran], he called him names.

Mr. Ashiq says that he had already decided he would resign, rather than cave into pressure to recite the Quran; what happened to him was witnessed by Sister Sheeba and other staff.

“Later the superintendent ordered security guards to detain me in the storeroom as a punishment and this was repeated the next day too, when I came to the hospital,” he said.

“I told Sarfaraz I cannot recite the verses and would prefer to resign. He told me to come to his room. When I went, he said I could stay at home and was free to do that. My colleagues advised me not to do this, because if I was absent, then he could send an absentee report and get me removed from service.”

Sister Mehtab says the superintendent was not rude and insulting only to Christians, but was equally bad tempered and unreasonable to everyone. “He even asked nurses to tell him their mathematics tables,” she said.

On condition of anonymity, a doctor told World Watch Monitor that doctors hadn’t instigated Mr. Ashiq to initiate legal action, but that Dr. Sarfaraz was trying to cover up for his own unreasonable behaviour. “If he forced Ashiq to recite Quranic verses, then this is his own act. If he has slapped a staff member in the operating theatre, then it his own act,” the doctor said, adding that “the government must remove him” because he was in conflict with everyone.

World Watch Monitor tried to speak to Dr. Sarfaraz to hear his account of events, but was unable to reach him.

In recent months, many educated people have been found to be involved in religious extremism in Pakistan. A medical student was arrested only days before Easter: the ISIS-linked young woman had planned to target a Christian neighbourhood at Easter. Religious minorities say they feel unsafe in this environment, fearing extremism has penetrated Pakistani society.

Source: World Watch Monitor



Lawyers ‘threatened’ in boy’s Kaaba ‘blasphemy’ case

by Asif Aqeel

Lawyers representing a 16-year-old Pakistani Christian boy accused of blasphemy for ‘liking’ a photo posted on Facebook have reported being intimidated by the complainant’s supporters as they made their Appeal Court appearance on 3 October.

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Nabeel Masih, 16, is alleged to have “defamed” the Kaaba in Mecca, the building at the centre of Islam’s most sacred mosque. Amalia Sari / Flickr / CC

Lawyers representing a 16-year-old Pakistani Christian boy accused of blasphemy for ‘liking’ a photo posted on Facebook have reported being intimidated by the complainant’s supporters as they made their Appeal Court appearance on 3 October.

Aneeqa Maria Anthony, head of the legal team representing the boy, Nabeel Masih, said she was told by a lawyer for the complainant to “watch herself and stay away”. She also said about 80 people at the hearing made the courtroom tense, after they protested and threatened Masih’s family.

The appeal was heard in Pattoki, a town 50 miles from Lahore in north-eastern Pakistan. Anthony will apply to get the case heard in Lahore, where her legal team and the boy’s family will feel safer.

Pakistan is an Islamic state. We are all Muslims. These are Muslim courts, so you should not defend such a criminal. You people come here from Lahore to pursue this case, but there are many people here whom you cannot see, so you better watch yourself and stay away.
She said she is “confident [Masih] has committed no crime and that is why we are representing him… Nabeel is innocent: the accusation against him has not yet been proven”.

Masih was arrested on 18 Sep. after a complaint had been filed with the police earlier in the day. The complainant, Akhtar Ali, said Masih had ‘liked’ and shared on Facebook a defamatory photograph of the Kaaba – the building at the centre of Islam’s holiest site in Mecca.

After the incident many Christians living in the area went into hiding fearing reprisals, though they later returned.

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Nabeel Masih, 16, has been accused of ‘liking’ and sharing a post on Facebook which ‘defamed and disrespected’ the Kaaba in Mecca. The Voice Society

Masih was in court because his application for bail was being contested. According to three lawyers present in the courtroom, Amin Muzammal Chaudhry – the complainant’s lawyer – told Anthony that Masih’s “is a blasphemy case and that this man has blasphemed against Islam. You should know that Pakistan is an Islamic state. We are all Muslims. These are Muslim courts, so you should not defend such a criminal. You people come here from Lahore to pursue this case, but there are many people here whom you cannot see, so you better watch yourself and stay away.”

Human rights lawyer Napoleon Qayyum said Christians and other religious minorities must seek justice through the courts, but he criticised Chaudhry’s behaviour: “We condemn this treatment of attorneys in the courtroom. Pakistan’s Christians are citizens of the country. We have lived here for a long time and should not be considered outsiders.”

Religious freedoms are guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution, which was a secular state at its independence in 1947, though became an Islamic republic in 1956. It is estimated that 95% of Pakistan’s population are Muslim, and about 1.6% (2.5 million) Christian.

In the 2016 World Watch List (published by Christian charity Open Doors) of countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian, Pakistan is 6th, just behind Syria. “Pakistan’s blasphemy laws continue to be abused to settle personal scores, particularly against minorities including Christians,” reports Open Doors.

A report published by Human Rights Watch on 25 Sep. stated: “Public surveys and reports of government accountability and redress institutions show that the police are one of the most widely feared, complained against, and least trusted government institutions in Pakistan, lacking a clear system of accountability and plagued by corruption at the highest levels.

“District-level police are often under the control of powerful politicians, wealthy landowners, and other influential members of society. There are numerous reported cases of police extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects, torture of detainees to obtain confessions, and harassment and extortion of individuals who seek to file criminal cases.

Other social media cases

In July, Pakistani Christian Nadeem James and his family fled their home in the religiously conservative city of Gujarat after he was accused of committing blasphemy by sending an offensive text message from his mobile phone.

In May, Imran Masih, a 30-year-old road sweeper, was attacked and had a fatwa declared against him after a work colleague said he’d found an anti-Islamic video on Masih’s phone.

In 2014, lawyer Rashid Rehman was threatened in court while he represented a man accused of ‘liking’ a ‘blasphemous’ message posted on Facebook. Rehman was later murdered at his office.

Source: World Watch Monitor



Pakistan: Christian boy, 16, arrested for Kaaba ‘blasphemy’

In another village, Christians attacked after Muslims’ Friday prayers

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Nabeel Masih, 16, is alleged to have “defamed” the Kaaba in Mecca, the building at the centre of Islam’s most sacred mosque. Amalia Sari / Flickr / CC

A 16-year-old Christian boy has been accused of committing blasphemy by “liking” and sharing a post on Facebook which “defamed and disrespected” the Kaaba in Mecca, the building at the centre of Islam’s most sacred mosque.
Most of the Christians in the boy’s village have since fled their homes for fear of an angry backlash against them.

At around 3pm on Sunday (18 Sep.), several police vans raided Nabeel Masih’s house in Dina Nath village – in the Kasur district of Punjab province, 30 miles southwest of Lahore. There are at least 300 Christian homes in the village.

The complainant, Akhtar Ali, filed this accusation at the nearby Phoolnagar Police Station: “On 18 September, I was with my friends Bakht Khan and Saddam … We took our friend Waqar’s mobile phone and started seeing pictures of his various friends on Facebook. But when we opened Nabeel Masih’s profile, there was a picture posted in which the Kaaba is defamed and disrespected. Seeing that picture, our religious feelings were hurt.”

“It was only a mistake and he clearly stated that he did not intend to hurt [anyone] but to condemn the post.”

–Imran Masih
Nabeel’s cousin, Imran, 24, told World Watch Monitor that Nabeel had nothing against Muslims and meant no harm.

“It was only a mistake by him and he clearly stated that he did not intend to hurt but to condemn the post,” Imran said. He added that Nabeel is illiterate and works as a labourer in a nearby ghee factory.

Pastor Samuel Masih, who was visiting his sisters in the village, said that, although everything seemed calm, “many of the Christians have left the area due to fear of security”.

Phoolnagar Police Station head, Shahbaz Ahmed Dogar, reiterated that everything was under control and urged Christians to return.

“There was no announcement from mosque loudspeakers or any gathering of people,” he said. “Those who have left the area have taken only precautionary measures and I would encourage them to return to their houses.”

In several instances in the past, Christian neighbourhoods in Pakistan have been targeted following blasphemy allegations, resulting in the looting, ransacking and burning of Christian homes. In 2009, more than 100 Christian homes were ransacked and set on fire in Gojra, near Faisalabad, while in March 2013 another 150 Christian homes were set on fire in Lahore’s Joseph Colony.

Christians attacked after Friday prayers

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Shahzad Masih, 25, his brother Zahid, 23, and his mother Parveen, were hospitalised after the attack. World Watch Monitor

Meanwhile, a poor Christian neighbourhood in a remote village 20 miles south of Faisalabad came under attack after Muslim Friday prayers on 16 September.
Five people were hospitalised, including two women who also faced public humiliation after their clothes were torn, but police said the injuries were not sufficient for the formal registration of a case.

At least 20 men armed with sticks and firearms attacked the Christian neighbourhood – in the village of Chajwal, in the Samundri district. The incident took place only the day after the Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs, Khalil Tahir Sandhu, told local media that “minorities in Pakistan are more secured (sic) than [in] other countries of the region”.

Villager Razaq Masih, 55, lodged a formal complaint at the Samundri Saddar Police Station, in which he named six alleged attackers. He said that, at around 4pm on Friday, those six, alongside 30-35 others, came to the village, “yelling that today they would teach a lesson to these ‘chuhras’* … [and] attacked the Christians”.

Masih added that the assailants had stormed into the house of a Christian woman, Sharifan Bibi, “torn [her] clothes” and “while beating her, dragged her … out of the house”.

“My sons are labourers and they had just returned from their work. I tried to save my sons, after which they beat me with clubs and attacked us with bricks.”

–Parveen Bibi
Parveen Bibi said she was also beaten as she tried to protect her two sons – Shahbaz, 25, and Zahid, 23.

“My sons are labourers and they had just returned from their work,” she told World Watch Monitor from her hospital bed. “I [pleaded with the attackers] and tried to save my sons, after which they beat me with clubs and attacked us with bricks.”

Arif Masih, 55, who also works as a labourer, was returning home from a wedding when he was beaten.

“I could not even understand why they were beating me,” Masih told World Watch Monitor at the hospital.

Hundreds of Christians from the village gathered together on Sunday evening (18 Sep.) and resolved to seek justice. They told World Watch Monitor the attackers must have had support from local politicians, which is why the police had refused to officially register the case, and said they were fearful of further attacks.

“About 300 to 400 Christian households are in Chajwal, whom the influential community of Gujjars [an agricultural caste] have been trying to suppress for a while,” said Shahid Masih Paul, chairman of Christ Assemblies International, a Pentecostal group. “The Gujjars are influential in the area. Decades ago, these Christians were dependent … on [these] landlords, but over time their number has decreased and most of them work as labourers in the city.”

What sparked the attack?

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Christians gathered on Sunday evening (18 Sep.) and resolved to seek justice. They said they suspected the attackers had support from local politicians and that they were fearful of further attacks. World Watch Monitor

Razaq Masih told World Watch Monitor that he had been sitting with a Muslim man in front of some Christian homes, when some Gujjars, as well as people from the Julaha (weavers) caste, arrived and wanted to beat up the man.
“They had a grudge against him because of a relationship he had a year ago with a young woman, who was also Muslim,” Masih explained. “The Christians intervened and said that if the relationship had ended, then why should he be beaten? Within no time, about 30 men arrived, yelling that we will teach these ‘chuhras’ a lesson for raising their heads [to defend the Muslim].”

Chairman Paul said that the Gujjar and Julaha communities had long wanted to direct their sewerage water into the cesspit beside the Christian community, but that “Christians have been refusing because they think that the pond would then overflow and their houses would be inundated. That is the core issue. It is not bearable for the Gujjar and Julaha that these poor Christians, who have long been their tenants, have started to resist them.”

Razaq Masih said all the Christians live on government land. “They have not been able to buy the land, but for decades they have been living there. If the [Gujjars] are allowed to channel their sewerage water there and it inundates the Christians’ houses, they would then have to leave the village.”

Rao Kashif, provincial parliamentarian for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, told World Watch Monitor that he could not confirm whether or not the Christians were beaten up.

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Arif Masih: ‘I could not even understand why they were beating me.’ World Watch Monitor

“I regularly come to my office but how can I know if none of them has come to me?” he said.
The Christians complained that since the incident no parliamentarian has yet raised their case. In the past, many incidents of violence against Christians have taken place, which have been seen as a precursor for later evicting them from the government land they live on.

Christians continue to be regarded as lower-class citizens and are often forced to live in the less desirable parts of an area, such as close to sewerage-filled ponds. This attitude towards them is reinforced from schooldays onwards.

A recent report by Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) says the government has failed to keep its promise to eradicate religious “hate material”, including against minority Christians, from textbooks used in schools.

After the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in Dec. 2014, the government introduced a 20-point National Action Plan to discourage religious extremism and to provide a counter-narrative to promote religious harmony, saying an “end to religious extremism and [the] protection of minorities will be ensured”. However, the NCJP report, “Freedom from Suffocating Education”, claims that no curriculum reforms have so far been adopted at the school level, aside from the production of a few booklets.

This backs up the findings of another recent report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which concluded: “The trend toward a more biased curriculum towards religious minorities is accelerating. These grossly generalized and stereotypical portrayals of religious minority communities signal that they are untrustworthy, religiously inferior, and ideologically scheming and intolerant.”

The NCJP report, which focused on textbooks used in the 2015-16 school year, noted that “hate material” previously identified had not been removed from the curriculum yet.

Source: World Watch Monitor



Christian Woman in Pakistan Stripped And Assaulted By Muslim Men Angered By Her Brother

A Christian woman in Lahore, Pakistan was stripped naked and assaulted by four Muslim men enraged that her brother eloped with a married woman.

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Open Doors USA’s 2015 World Watch List report ranked Pakistan as number 8 on the list of nations where Christians face the most severe persecution. Reuters

According to the Indian Express Tribune, Samra, 28, told police that the four armed men on Sunday forcefully entered her house and asked her about the whereabouts of her brother Badal, who had eloped with the wife of one of the attackers.

When she told the armed men that she did not know about her brother’s whereabouts, they began to violently assault her.

“They dragged me to a room and tore apart my cloths and tried to rape me. I managed to flee towards the roof and jumped to the house of a neighbor where a woman provided me clothes,” she told the outlet.

The young woman added that she nothing to do with the activities of her brother. However, while a case has been registered against Badal for allegedly kidnapping the wife of one of the attackers, police have not taken any action against the men on Samra’s complaint.

Currently, several Christian organizations have appealed to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to order action against the suspects involved in torturing and striping of the woman.

According to World Watch Monitor, Lahore is a largely Christian-dominated city in the predominantly Muslim country. However, Christians are nevertheless considered religious minorities and treated as inferior citizens by their Muslim counterparts.

Last month, Muslim extremists in the region threatened to burn alive members of a Christian family and abduct and kill young Christian girls in the area after a Muslim woman eloped with a Christian man.

In June, a pastor was brutally attacked and beaten by police after a Muslim man complained the church service was too loud. The congregation became very upset and Christians later staged a protest on Ferozepur Road and blocked traffic.

In light of rampant persecution, Pakistan’s People’s Party Vice President and Senator Sherry Rehman last month criticized the government for its failure to protect religious minorities and said that inaction amounts “tacit approval” of the crimes.

“Pakistan cannot continue to tolerate continual religious persecution of its minorities. They are not second-class citizens and should not be treated as such.” Rehman said.

Rehman urged the government to come up with a plan to combat such persecution: “The government needs to take a clear position on how it treats its citizens, especially the marginalized and vulnerable. It needs to have a plan of action that we can all uphold and pursue,”

Open Doors USA’s 2015 World Watch List report ranked Pakistan as number 8 on the list of nations where Christians face the most severe persecution.

Source: THE GOSPEL HERALD



The Christians held in Thailand after fleeing Pakistan

By Chris Rogers
BBC News, Thailand

 

A BBC investigation has found that Thailand, a country known for its hospitality to tourists, routinely arrests and detains asylum seekers. Many are Pakistani Christians who have fled religious persecution in their own country. Some are children. And they are held despite being UN-registered asylum seekers, whom the UN is under a duty to protect.

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The sound of the faithful in prayer and song bursts out of a small rented room where a congregation of more than 100 people have gathered for Sunday mass. They would be risking their lives to worship like this in their homeland, where Islamist extremists force Christians to convert, or even kill them.

Leading the prayers is Pastor Joshua, a Christian from Lahore, in what is officially known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Along with thousands of other Christians, he’s had to flee to Thailand and still fears the people in Pakistan who punished him for converting from Islam to Christianity.

“My bone was broken – the one right above the heart. And they tried to cut my arm off,” he says.
“My sister was murdered, she was burned alive, just because she spoke the word ‘God’. They hate the word ‘God’ so much. She was burned for this reason alone.”

The Pakistani Christians head to Thailand because it’s easy to enter the country on a short-term tourist visa and in Pakistan’s hostile neighbourhood there are few safe options closer to hand.

But there is hardly a welcoming committee in Thailand. The country doesn’t want asylum seekers from anywhere. It is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, and anyone without a valid visa or a work permit risks being arrested, charged with illegal immigration and jailed.

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A Pakistani man arrested as an illegal immigrant is released on bail in 2011 Image copyrightAFP

Thailand has allowed the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, to step in and investigate the credibility of those claiming to flee persecution – a process with two possible outcomes, either repatriation or relocation to another country. But many of these families say they’ve been waiting years to be assessed by the UN and they have no access to work, education or healthcare.

As they await the outcome of their case, thousands of Pakistani asylum seekers set up temporary home in dingy rooms in a network of tower blocks on the outskirts of Bangkok. People who were once comfortably-off professionals arrive with just a few possessions, their rent and food paid for by local Christian charities.
And they live in constant fear.

The Thai immigration police have lost patience with the UN’s failure to process asylum cases in good time, one young father tells me, holding a 25-week-old baby in his arms.
“They are taking people out of the rooms from everywhere, they can strike at any time, there is always tension,” he says.

I hear that the immigration police are raiding a block of rooms close by, so I go straight there and find dozens of women crying and clutching their children.
The police have just broken down the doors and taken away all their husbands. Women and children were also taken from other blocks. All told, more than 50 Pakistani asylum seekers have been arrested.

I find them at the local court, where they are handcuffed, charged with illegal immigration, fined 4,000 Baht (£90) and then sent to Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre.

_88430991_arrested_close976 This isn’t supposed to happen. All registered asylum seekers are issued with a UN document, which certifies them as an “internationally recognised UN person of concern”. This means they should not be arrested or detained for seeking asylum while the UN investigates their case.

Earlier I met one man called Sabir, who fled Pakistan two years ago with his wife, Laila, their two daughters, Laila’s parents, and her siblings and grandparents. They shared a small, sparse room with no kitchen or toilet, all 10 of them – until Laila was arrested two months ago.

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Sabir in the block of flats he rarely leave

Sabir hasn’t seen her since and sobs that he is lost without her. He doesn’t regret leaving Pakistan though, where he says a gang threatened to kill his family if they didn’t convert to Islam. “Over here, the only fear we have is of the immigration police, nothing else,” he says.

But the UN won’t investigate his asylum case until 2018. He says he’s been told there is a backlog.

In a statement to the BBC, the UNHCR admits it is struggling. “Amid the context of today’s acute global humanitarian funding crunch, it is correct that at present we are facing long delays in the processing of asylum claims with funding for Thailand at only a third of the level needed.” But it adds that it has managed to prevent the arrest of more than 400 “people of concern to UNHCR” in the last six months, by insisting on their status as registered asylum seekers.

Meanwhile the Thai government complains the UN’s inactivity is “creating far-reaching impacts on its security” – a reference to Thai fears that immigrants from Pakistan could be involved in terrorism – “leading to a number of arrests of illegal immigrants in the past year”.

Anyone arrested – Sabir’s wife, for example – is taken to Bangkok’s filthy and overcrowded immigration detention centre.

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Inside the detention centre – faces have been blurred for anonymityJournalists and cameras are not allowed inside but volunteers delivering much-needed fresh water and food for inmates are, and that is how I enter, with other members of the BBC crew. Wearing search-proof hidden cameras we nervously pass through security checks and hand over our water and food to be checked by the guards

We are led to a large, stiflingly hot room, crammed with hundreds of asylum seekers pressing their faces against a wire-mesh internal barrier. They are nearly all Pakistani Christians. For one hour a day, some of the 200 asylum seekers held here are let out of their cells to see visitors.

The men are semi-naked. Unaware we are BBC journalists, they tell us it’s the only way to keep cool in the overcrowded cells they’re kept in. The women cradle their children and babies. Many complain their children are suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting because of poor sanitation and dirty drinking water. The room gets noisy as the inmates cry out to the visiting charity workers for their help to get released, but food and clean drinking water are all they can offer. One mother tells me she has been here for three months with her children. “The youngest is three and the eldest is 10. They are finding it very difficult being here, they are getting so ill,” she says.

The Thai government says parents “often choose to have their children with them while in detention”.

Yet the country has signed up to a number of UN international laws governing the humane treatment of prisoners and outlawing the imprisonment of children – particularly in centres holding adults.

None of the detainees I speak to have received legal assistance from the UNHCR since their arrest.

“We have no faith in the United Nations,” 19-year-old Nazeem tells me, as she holds on to her baby cousin. “We only have faith in God. He will bring us freedom.”
Their only way out of detention is for local charities to request bail from the Thai authorities. It costs about £900 ($1,250) to release one person, so they do this only for those deemed most vulnerable.

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Pakistani men in handcuffs

There are no official figures for the numbers arrested, but campaigners say it amounts to hundreds every month. It’s alleged that 132 Pakistani Christians were arrested on one day alone in March last year. Altogether there are an estimated 11,500 Pakistani asylum seekers in Thailand, more than from any other country except Myanmar.

Suddenly I come across a young woman I was hoping to meet. There on the other side of the security cordon is Laila, Sabir’s wife. It’s an emotional meeting – she is obviously desperate to see her family. “I miss them, bring my daughters here so I can see their faces,” she pleads. But the only way she is likely to see children for the foreseeable future, is if they are arrested too.

In its statement to the BBC, the UNHCR says it is working with the Thai government to find a solution. “Better and more humane management of the situation must be found in accordance with international legal norms,” it says.
The Thai government insists that it strives “to provide the best possible care… based on international humanitarian principles.”

Yet it inflicts an even worse fate upon some Pakistani Christians and their children. Those who are unable to pay the 4,000 Baht fine after they are arrested are thrown into one of Thailand’s notorious jails.

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Asylum seekers in shackles

This happened last year to a group of 20 Pakistani men, women and children. Separated from the women, the men’s heads were shaved, and their ankles and hands placed in shackles.
“We had a lot of problem sleeping, sitting, standing up and walking,” says one. “The chains weighed about 4kg or 4.5kg, and we used to have injuries on our ankles. We were in a lot of pain. It was very difficult for us.”
One of his cellmates, Daniel, bursts into tears when he describes how the men were searched. “All we had to wear for clothing was a small piece of cloth,” he adds.
The people charged with assuring the protection of these UN-registered asylum seekers were nowhere to be seen.
It was a local missionary who eventually bought their freedom.
But remarkably, Daniel is still able to invoke his faith’s humility and forgiveness.
“Jesus said to us, ‘If someone troubles you, don’t ask for curses for him, instead, you should ask for blessings for him.’ So, we ask for blessings for the UNHCR.”

 

Source: BBC News