A group of Christians who were beaten and then illegally detained by police in Pakistan say they are victims of rising persecution in the country.
On 21 November, seven brick kiln workers were travelling home when they were stopped by three officials for a routine inspection. However, the men say they were treated with suspicion when they gave their Christian names, and were accused of stealing the money they were carrying – about £100 between them, their weekly wage – and of dealing drugs. They say they were beaten, and arrested despite not being officially charged.
"We pleaded with them for mercy explaining we were just poor bricklayers returning to our homes... We explained that our employer could explain where we obtained our money, but they still beat us with their batons extremely severely," one of men who was beaten, 47-year-old Allah Rakha, told the Pakistan Christian Post.
"Even when we cried and lay on the floor they continued to beat us, filled with hatred that we were Christians with some money. When we were put in a cell despite our severe wounds they provided no medical aid and we sat in pain, bleeding and catching infections. I led everyone in prayer believing God would release us just as He did with Paul. God answered our prayers after a couple of hours and police staff allowed us to call our community leaders... who were able to act as guarantors for us enabling our release and return home."
The men have not yet been given their money back, and have as yet been unable to return to work. The local Christian community staged a protest outside the police station today, and a lawyer working on behalf of the men has submitted a complaint.
Local human rights activist Irfan Masih told the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) that an inquiry will be held. "As a community we will fight against the discrimination and brutality of police authorities towards Christians," he said.
Persecution against Christians is a rising problem in Muslim-majority Pakistan, and the misuse of the country's blasphemy laws in particular has been condemned by human rights groups. Last year, a Christian couple were beaten and burned to death in a brick kiln following rumours that they had burned pages from the Quran. They were later proved innocent, and Pakistan has now charged 106 people with their murder.
The US Commission for International Religious Freedom this year said Pakistan represented "one of the worst situations in the world for religious freedom" and recommended that the administration designated it a 'country of particular concern'.
In the State Department's International Religious Freedom Report for 2014 released in October, the Pakistani government was blamed for failing to "investigate, arrest, or prosecute those responsible for religious freedom abuses promoted an environment of impunity that fostered intolerance and acts of violence".
"Government policies did not afford equal protection to members of minority religious groups, and due to discriminatory legislation such as blasphemy laws...minorities often were afraid to profess freely their religious beliefs," the report said.