Pakistan (MNN) – This week, with an ugly anniversary looming, Baluchistan’s provincial government decided to beef up security for the Christian community during Christmas celebrations.
They’re casting an eye toward the December 17, 2017 suicide bombing attack on a packed church in Quetta, the capital city of Baluchistan, in southwestern Pakistan. Voice of the Martyrs USA spokesman Todd Nettleton says attacks like this one and what happened to Asia Bibi that has religious watchdog groups on alert. “The last couple of months, you’ve had radicals marching all over the streets in Pakistan, raising the temperature, raising the level of animosity. Christians look at that and say ‘Wow. We were already attacked during the Christmas season last year. What could happen this year?’ It’s a key time to be in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Pakistan.”
Members of the Tehreek e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) have stirred up antipathy toward Christians over the suggestion of blasphemy law reform and Asia Bibi’s acquittal. When the Supreme Court decided the prosecution didn’t prove their case against her, TLP leaders called for protests on the decision. That led to riots in most of Pakistan’s major cities. The government then arrested key TLP leaders and charged them with sedition and terrorism, provoking more outrage.
Although protests seem to be settling down, Nettleton reminds us that extremists know this is a time of year to make the biggest statements. “Pray for protection for Christians because there is that level of animosity and anger right now”, especially during this Christmas season.
“This is a time where Christians gather together for worship, they gather together for fellowship and to celebrate Christ’s birth. It is also a time when they’re targeted.”
The hostility against non-Muslim minorities, especially Christians, has not gone unnoticed by the international community. This week, Pakistan denounced the United States for placing it on the US list of “countries of particular concern”, a designation reserved for those countries which have violated religious freedoms or tolerated abuses against religious groups, although no sanctions will be incurred. Once again, the blasphemy law figured into the discussion, although Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry pointed out that theirs is a “multi-religious and pluralistic society where people of diverse faiths and denominations live together.”
Yet, despite assurances of religious freedom, it’s clear that the extremists are a force to be reckoned with. Pakistan is 5th on Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is hardest to live as a Christian.
Nettleton urges all of us to pray for protection for the Christians in Pakistan. Just by association, there’s a risk. “There have been reports that even some neighbors of Asia Bibi’s family, who may have helped them while she was in prison, have been hunted down. Some of them aren’t Christians; they’re Muslim, but they helped Asia Bibi.”
In the middle of the Advent season, it is the time of waiting and anticipating the hope of Christ. Given the atmosphere in Pakistan, the security concerns are expected. What it means is that the Christians of Pakistan are still gathering to celebrate the story of a Savior and the promise of His Coming in the light of His love.
Header photo courtesy of FMI.