Call to stop Christians being forced to convert to Islam

Christian girls from Pakistan

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been urged to take action to try and stop Christians in Pakistan being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam.

Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Right Rev Dr Russell Barr said the practice was a crime but not one that was properly investigated to bring the perpetrators to justice.

He said the growing threat to the safety and security of non-Muslims in Pakistan was making the lives of minorities increasingly difficult and called on the Foreign Secretary to raise the issue with the country's government as a matter of urgency.

Christian people make up 2% of the 200million population in the country and although no official statistics are available, campaigners say thousands of girls under 18 are forced to convert to Islam every year.

Police protection

It was reported last month that a deaf-mute Pakistani Christian girl called Asma fromSialkot in the province of Punjabwas able to escape from a Muslim man who had allegedly kidnapped and forced her to convert to Islam and to Islamic marriage.

Her kidnapper, who has friends in the political and law enforcement world, produced forged conversion and marriage certificates which resulted in the police pressurising her family to return her to the man who took her and refusing to investigate.

In a letter to the Foreign Secretary, Dr Barr said: “I am alarmed to hear reports of forced conversions of Christians in Pakistan.

“Recently I have heard distressing accounts of Christian girls and young women being abducted, forced to embrace Islam and their families being hindered or refused help by the police and justice system.

“Alleged crimes by influential people are not registered or investigated which amounts to police protection for alleged kidnappers and rapists.

“Forcible conversion to any religion is a crime, even under Pakistani law.

“My fear is that if pressure is not brought to bear on the Pakistan government the problem will continue to grow and people will continue to commit such crimes with impunity without any fear of punishment.

“I therefore request that you raise this matter with the Government of Pakistan, asking them to stop this persecution, bring the perpetrators to justice and introduce new legislation as suggested by the Senate committee.”

Russell Barr Right Rev Dr Russell Barr

State obligation

The Church of Scotland has been involved in delivering education and healthcare in Pakistan and supporting the local church and Christian community there since 1857.

Today, many Kirk ministers working in Scottish parishes are from the country.

Dr Barr said: “Pakistan is under obligation to bring its law into line with international conventions ratified in relation to women, children and religious freedom and belief.

“The Convention on Elimination of All Forms for Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) clearly establishes state obligation to respect, protect and fulfil women’s rights.

“Under CEDAW, it is the responsibility of the state to take appropriate measures to eliminate laws and practices that directly discriminate against women, and also to create an environment in which women’s rights can be fulfilled and protected.”

Pakistani Taliban faction Jamaat ul-Ahrar admitted Christians were the target of a bomb in a Lahore park in March which killed 72 people and injured 280.