Pakistan human rights lawyer who defends Christians goes into hiding after death threats

British Pakistani Christians protest the blasphemy laws outside the prime minster's home.CLAAS-UK

A leading Christian human rights lawyer in Pakistan has gone into hiding after receiving death threats because of the help he has given to victims of the country's blasphemy laws and other abuses.

Sardar Mushtaq Gill was worried in particular about the risks to his family caused by his work for the persecuted and oppressed minorities of Pakistan, Christians in Pakistan reports.

He has sought safety as the trial approaches in the case of the notorious brick kiln murders, when a couple were burned alive in a kiln after being accused of blasphemy.

Gill had been working to protect and secure the future of the heirs of the couple, Shahzad Masih, aged 32, and his wife Shama, aged 30.

They were accused of blasphemy, had their legs broken and were burned alive two years ago after they asked the kiln owner to pay some money they were owed.

Gill, director of the Legal Evangelical Association Development, has handed the kiln case to the Farrukh Saif Foundation, which helps victims of discrimination in Pakistan. Gill repeatedly requested protection from the authorities but fled after none was forthcoming. 

Sardar Mushtaq Gill, second from right, with some of those he has been trying to helpPakistan Christian Post

According to a report on the association's website, Gill "was striving for justice for the legal heirs of Christian couple who was burned alive after a false allegation of blasphemy".

The statement continues: "Mr Gill at high risk, he was forced into hiding after getting life threats and physical attacks. He has also earlier expressed serious concern for his and his family safety after threats were issued by both militants and extremists groups and the individual criminals; despite seeking protection from the authorities his call for security has been ignored."

The legal heirs of Shahzad and Shama have also filed an application for protection in the Anti-Terrorism Court II Lahore after receiving threats.

The human rights activist Peter Tatchell has called on the UK government to make aid to Pakistan dependent on an improvement in the country's treatment of its minorities. 

Referring to the latest report from the British Pakistani Christian Organisation, he said: "The government of Pakistan has announced plans to force Islam on young people by making Koranic study compulsory for all school and college students, which is contrary to the country's constitution and the Islamic precept that there should be no compulsion in religion. This is the latest escalation of the country's bias against Christians, other minority faiths and non-believers."

He added: "Pakistani Christians, including children, are at risk of kidnapping, forced marriage and forced religious conversion to Islam. Some are also victims of blasphemy charges, which carry the death penalty. There are regular violent assaults on Christian families, homes, shops and churches.

"The British government should make overseas aid to Pakistan conditional on Islamabad's protection of the human rights of Christians and other minorities. If Pakistan's rulers do not comply, the UK should switch aid from the government to NGOs that do not discriminate."