Family of slain Christian in Pakistan receives death threats

Farhan Ul Qamar was killed on Nov. 9, 2023.(Morning Star News courtesy of family)

Muslim relatives of the alleged killer of a 20-year-old Christian in Pakistan are threatening the victim's family with death if they do not drop charges, sources said.

Muhammad Zubair initially confessed to killing Farhan Ul Qamar in his house in Talwandi Inayat Khan village, Pasrur tehsil of Sialkot District, Punjab Province, shooting him in the presence of the Christian's family members on Nov. 9, 2023. He later retracted his confession in court.

The victim's father, Noor Ul Qamar, said that on the evening of March 18, his family was busy in their routine chores when six armed Muslims led by the alleged killer's father, Afzal Bajwa, intruded into their house and held them all at gunpoint.

"The intruders threatened us that if we do not stop pursuing the case and reach a settlement with them to free Zubair from prison, they would kill us all," Ul Qamar told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.

The armed Muslims were present in their house when one of Ul Qamar's brothers, a pastor who lives in the neighborhood, called police, he said.

"God knows what would have happened to us if the police hadn't come on time and took the intruders into custody," Ul Qamar said. "I filed an application for the registration of a case against them, but instead the police released the men after a few hours."

The head of the police station told him that he had let the armed Muslims off with a warning to not intimidate the family again, Ul Qamar said.

"The accused's family has a criminal background and are also politically influential, which is perhaps why the police did not take any legal action against them," he said.

Area residents have advised him not press charges regarding the armed break-in and death threat as it could endanger his family, he said.

"Zubair's family started threatening me to withdraw the case a couple of months after they saw that the hype around the murder had settled down," Ul Qamar told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. "They first sent reconciliatory messages through different people, but when we refused, their tone became more aggressive, and they threatened to kill me if I did not surrender to their demand."

On the night of the killing, Zubair showed hatred for Christians and Jews, mistakenly referring to the family as Jews as he ranted at them before killing Farhan Ul Qamar, family members said. Police arrested Zubair from his home a few hours later, and while in police custody he confessed to killing the Christian. He is awaiting trial in Sialkot District Jail.

Though shaken, the family is determined to pursue justice for the killer, Ul Qamar said.

"Zubair's elder brother and a paternal cousin were gangsters and were killed in police encounters," he added. "Zubair also has a police record and was involved in several heinous crimes before he committed my son's murder. We know that if he is not punished in accordance with the law, no Christian family of our village will be safe from his violence."

Among 20-25 other Christian families in the village, Ul Qamar's family has resided in the area for generations, often facing religious bias and discrimination.

The youngest of Ul Qamar's four children, Farhan Ul Qamar had been enrolled in a four-year medical technician program and was excited about becoming a health care professional after graduation, but all their dreams were shattered in front of their eyes, the grieving father said.

Tehmina Arora, director of advocacy in Asia of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, said the crime is a reminder of the vulnerability of Christians in Pakistan.

"Mobs and individual are emboldened because, over the years, the Pakistani government has failed to ensure swift prosecution and justice for Christians who have been attacked in their homes and churches," Arora said. "Sadly, even after 10 years of the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court directing the government to undertake measures to ensure the protection of religious minorities, little has changed on the ground."

ADF International is supporting the impoverished family's pursuit of justice through its allied lawyer, Lazar Allah Rakha. He expressed concern for the safety of the victim's family.

"Who will be responsible if any member of Ul Qamar's family is harmed by the accused party?" Rakha told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. "Families and friends of such criminals can go to any extent to save them from the law. It's unfortunate that not only the complainants but also their lawyers and judges hearing the cases are threatened and attacked."

He said that Christians were particularly vulnerable in Punjab Province, where they are easily coerced into reaching settlements with suspects belonging to the Muslim majority.

"I fear that the situation may become risky for them when the trial begins, because the accused party will try their best to influence and intimidate the complainant and prosecution witnesses," Rakha said. "It would be better for them to relocate to a safe place during this crucial time, because one cannot rely on the police for their security."

ADF International's Arora added that it was imperative that the Pakistani government take steps to ensure the protection of religious minorities, and that no one is targeted because of their faith.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors' 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from eighth the previous year.

© 2024 Christian Daily International-Morning Star News