Pakistan turmoil presents growing danger for Christians - Release International

Life for Christians in Pakistan is set to become increasingly dangerous in the new year, following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, warns Release International.

The past year has seen continuing violence against Christians as Pakistan struggled to contain Islamist extremism. The assassination of democracy campaigner Benazir Bhutto and the turmoil that has followed make it an even more dangerous place to be a Christian, the persecution watchdog warned.

Release International's partners, Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan (SLMP), believes Islamist extremism is likely to increase in the country in 2008, especially in northern areas. At the same time, there will be growing pressure from radicals to advance Sharia - strict Islamic law.

Those radicals include the Taliban. The impact of growing extremism in the country can be seen in Swat district. Female teachers and students at all schools in this district of north-west Pakistan have been told to wear the burqa or risk death.

Swat's Executive District Officer has issued a notice requiring even Christian women and girls to put on full-body Islamic dress, according to the regional newspaper Daily Mashriq. The official said pressure from Taliban extremists had left him with no option.

"The situation is becoming increasingly dangerous," said a spokesman for Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan (SLMP). "Christians face many forms of persecution in Pakistan - false implication in blasphemy cases, attacks against churches, land grabbing, forced conversion, maltreatment of Christian prisoners, rape and sometimes killing. They don't have the same rights as the Muslim majority."

Release International, which serves the persecuted church in 30 nations, is working with SLMP to provide pastoral and practical care to Christian prisoners, including those falsely accused under Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws.

"Please pray for the protection of SLMP team members," says Release International's CEO Andy Dipper. "In the growing turmoil it is becoming increasingly difficult to address persecution. With the election imminent, pray also that the new government will give Christians and other minorities the same rights in law as the Muslim majority."

Through its international network of missions Release International serves persecuted Christians through its support of pastors, and Christian prisoners and their families, as well as by supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.

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