Christians are a beleaguered minority caught between Islamic militant organizations that routinely target them for violence and an Islamic culture that discriminates against them. Death threats are routine for church leaders, beatings are common, and damage to church property occurs on a monthly basis. Christians cannot rely on government or the military to protect them. The killing in March 2011 of Christian Cabinet Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, was ‘one of the most demoralizing acts for us of recent years’, according to a church leader in Karachi.
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A mother of five sentenced to death on “blasphemy” charges lives in constant fear. After leaving the Sheikhupura District Jail last week, her husband, Salman Taseer, said that Asia Noreen (alternatively spelled Aaysa, and also called Asia Bibi), is “very afraid.”
Her conviction for insulting Islam’s prophet Muhammad, which she denies, triggered a violent chain of events in Pakistan, including the murder of Gov. Salman Taseer by his bodyguard after the governor voiced support for her. “She knows the Muslims have announced a prize on her head and would go to any lengths to kill her,” a visibly nervous Masih said. “The governor’s murder in broad daylight has put her in a state of paranoia.” He added that threats by Islamist extremists have dampened Noreen’s hope of getting justice from the Lahore High Court, where her appeal against the conviction has been filed but yet to be taken up.
Wearing a dark cloak to hide his identity, Masih was visibly nervous after meeting with her. Masih said prison authorities had improved Noreen’s security considerably after Gov. Salman Taseer’s killing, but prison officials have reportedly said she will be transferred to another prison soon because of security concerns. The female warden tasked with Noreen’s security the day Gov. Salman Taseer was killed shared the Christian woman’s reaction to the news. “We were passing by a barrack when the news broke out on TV that the governor was dead,” said the warden, who requested anonymity. “She stood there in shock for some time, and then she started screami ng and crying.”