A human rights lawyer from Pakistan broke down as she told of the release of a 16-year-old mentally ill Christian boy, who had been imprisoned on false blasphemy charges.
Christians in Pakistan suffer horrifically for doing nothing wrong, but, thanks to organisations like ADF International and their partners, there is hope even in the worst darkness.
Speaking at a symposium on human rights and freedom of conscience and religion, organised by ADF in Vienna on 6 March 2020, Aneeqa Anthony, Chief Executive of The Voice Society – a human rights organisation in Pakistan, said that Asif Stephen, who has mental health problems, had been picking up bottles from the rubbish to sell when he was accused. This was just to get him out of the way, so that his accuser could collect more bottles.
Ms Anthony broke down as she announced that he was released the previous day against “threats and problems”, including his family losing their home.
LEGAL TEAM’S MIRACULOUS ESCAPE
After the court verdict, Ms Anthony, her husband and her legal team found themselves in a dangerous situation, with an angry crowd awaiting them in the court car park. At great risk, her husband went to get their car and, through what Ms Anthony described as a miracle, her party was able to drive away from the large crowd, unharmed and unnoticed.
Other blasphemy-related cases she is dealing with include the unimaginable burning alive of a Christian couple in a brick kiln, on an unproven charge; the case of Nabeel Masih, a teenager accused of cyber blasphemy, who is in prison with his trial ongoing, and Patras Masih, another youngster, is also accused of cyber blasphemy. Saleem Masih was tortured to death, because he bathed in a tube well and ‘polluted the water of Muslims’. Sajid Masih was a victim of sexual assault because he was a relative of a blasphemer.
Two hundred houses in a Christian colony were burned down – based on an allegation. Sharoon Masih, yet another teenager, was killed by his classmates in school, after he touched their glass.
She told the 60 lawyers and journalists, who were visibly moved by a series of photographs of victims of blasphemy she presented, that it was easy to make an accusation of blasphemy; an accuser merely needed to state that he had heard someone committing blasphemy. She said: “That’s it. I can gather a mob of 4,000; burn down the whole colony and, if you (the victim) are caught, you will be arrested.”
“BLASPHEMERS MUST BE KILLED”
And if someone is accused of blasphemy, “his life is finished, because it is Islamic, and people regard it as their duty to kill that person if he is convicted. His family must be killed. Unofficially, I’m also a blasphemer.”
Felix Boellmann, ADF’s Europe legal counsel, prayed along with those gathered for Ms Anthony, who received a standing ovation after her talk.
Andreas Thonhauser, ADF Director of External Relations, said: “It is exactly these kinds of stories that we want you the journalists and the lawyers to take with you, and to remember and also tell at home in your countries. The A in ADF International stands for alliance. I hope that all of you consider yourselves as part of this alliance. Aneeqa is part of this alliance, and she is fighting the good fight in very difficult terrain.”
PIC CAP Aneeqa Anthony: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”
ADF not only advocates for prisoners of conscience but, as part of its Affirm Dignity multinational advocacy campaign, also seeks to protect the vulnerable, and is currently representing Tom Mortier in a landmark case on euthanasia, which is before the European Court of Human Rights. Mr Mortier’s mother, who suffered from chronic depression, was euthanised by Belgian doctors, and her son was only informed the next day.
Earlier at the Symposium, Dr Johannes Hartl, founder of the House of Prayer in Augsburg, Germany, and author of 15 books, delivered an apt keynote speech entitled ‘Say No to Discouragement’.
Just as athletes have to fight discouragement, in spiritual life personal private victory often precedes public victory. Christianity is not for pacifists (Ephesians 6:12). Discouragement blurs your capacity to see in the spirit, and as a leader/thought leader, this ability makes you distinct. You are called to evaluate from a higher standard, and the devil will do all he can to stop this. He will blur your capacity to receive vision and perspective from God. Discouragement is an enemy.
Citing Nehemiah 2:17, he said leadership is evaluating the situation and calling on others to change. Advice on saying No to discouragement includes declaring war on it, and saying No to the mentality that tries to put you down. He urged: “Sing a song, go to your room and say No. Say prayers of affirmation and of saying No. Do your thing and stay with it, spend time alone with God, which keeps your spirit healthy, both daily and once a year.
“You need friends,” he continued, “as well as inviting the Holy Spirit to wash away the enemy of discouragement, and to direct every spirit and negative mentality to go in Jesus’ Name, because our God is the God of hope.”
For more information, visit adfinternational.org.