Christian Persecution In Pakistan Must Stop, Boris Johnson Told

The moderator of the Church of Scotland has voiced his support for persecuted Christians in Pakistan and written to the UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson, asking him to put pressure on Pakistani authorities to stop the abuse.

The Right Rev Dr Russell Barr said Christians were being abducted and forcibly converted to Islam against their will. In a letter to Johnson on Tuesday he said Muslims who kidnapped Christians were protected by police and not enough force was put on the government to address the issue.

A suicide bomb attack that targeted Christians on Easter Sunday this year killed 62 and injured more than 200 others.Reuters

"Forcible conversion to any religion is a crime, even under Pakistani law," Barr told Johnson in his letter.

"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."

Christians make up two per cent of Pakistan's 200 million population and face extensive persecution at the hands of increasingly militant extremists. The country's controversial blasphemy law has been used to target Christians, according to the persecution charity Open Doors.

"Christians experience more violence in Pakistan than almost anywhere else," the charity said. It ranks Pakistan as the sixth worst country for Christian persecution, shortly behind Syria, Iraq and North Korea, with around 700 women and girls abducted, raped and forcibly married every year.

The foreign office minister Alok Sharma recently said the government was "concerned" about reports of abuses against Christians. But the government's own guidance and country profiles says Christians in Pakistan are not at "a real risk of persecution".

The guidance admits that "Christian women may be at risk of forced conversion and marriage" but denies this amounts to a "real risk of persecution". It goes on to say it is "unlikely" a Christian fleeing persecution in Pakistan would qualify for asylum in the UK.

In a report launched in February this year, Catholic peer Lord Alton urged ministers to accept the "reality" of the situation.

"The official line of the UK Government is that there is no persecution [of religious minorities], the reality is the opposite of that and our report dispenses with that illusion," he said.

In his letter to the foreign secretary Barr insisted he had "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".

He demanded Johnson pressurise Pakistani officials into action.

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

"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."