Sonil (Pakistan)

19 / 10 / 2016

“We are Christians. We were constantly accused of insulting Islam; there were threats to hang us. In March 2015, two Muslims activated their bomb vests near churches. The police began to detain everyone: people were later accused of killing the suicide bombers. They began to look for me.”

Between 1980 and 1986, during the reign of general Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s legislation became stricter. The general relied on Pakistani Sunni Islamists in his reign, so the main direction of his policy was the shariatization of secular law and the Constitution of the country. Thus paragraphs 295 and 298 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan came to be, known worldwide as a package of blasphemy laws. The wording of the articles is very conditional, similar to the Russian law on insulting religious feelings.

Art. 298. Uttering of any word or making any sound or making any gesture or placing of any object in the sight with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person is punished with imprisonment for a year or a fine.

A. If insulting remarks are made against saints, it is punishable with up to three years of imprisonment or a fine.

Art. 295. Injuring or defiling places of worship with intent to insult any religion is punishable by up to two years imprisonment or a fine.

A. If carried out intentionally and maliciously and accompanied by insulting religious feelings, it is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment or a fine.

B. If applied to the Quran, it is punishable by life imprisonment.

It is clear that “the religious feelings of any person” in the understanding of the Pakistani authorities and the police are the religious feelings of Muslims, and the clauses about fines in those laws are a mere formality. Followers of other religions in Pakistan, including members of the Ahmadiyya movement – Muslim, but considered heretical by Sunnis – are in a very difficult situation and are subject to constant discrimination. There is no justice for them, they are not able to make a career, they have no right to build or restore places of worship, and such places themselves are centers of attraction for Islamic radicals. Thus, in 2014, according to the Pakistan Minority Rights Commission, 141 terrorist attacks against places of worship of non-Muslim confessions were carried out.

On March 15, 2015 in the Lahore district of Yukhanabad, where about a hundred thousand Christians live, there were two explosions. Their targets were two churches located only five hundred meters away from each other – Catholic and Protestant. At least fifteen people fell victim to the attack, including a twelve-year-old child, a woman and a police officer. More than seventy people were injured. The temples were attacked by suicide bombers who died in the explosion.

That day, a young man named Sonil Nadim came to visit his sister in Lahore from his native Sargodha, where he was not able to find a job despite his good education and a master’s degree in finance. No one was willing to take the risk of employing a Christian. He and his wife, Zarish, had just had a son, Isaiah, and the family was in dire need of money. A relative in Lahore was able to find a place for Sonil at one of the city’s enterprises.

“I came to the scene of the explosion with my friends to help my Christian brothers and sisters. We began to dismantle the rubble and found two burned bodies. When I asked if they were terrorists, I was told that yes, they were suicide bombers. At the same time our media, newspapers, everything was blowing up: they kept repeating that Muslims were innocent. And when the news spread, the police came and began to arrest all Christians. I managed to leave, but the next day policemen were at my sister’s house.”

The sister’s husband said that the policemen already knew who they were looking for. Sonil was surprised, but later everything became clear: his two detained friends pleaded guilty under torture and named Sonil as their accomplice. His relatives told him to leave the factory and go with Zarish and his son to Sargodha as soon as possible. But that was not enough: as soon as Sonil returned home, the police came to his family. Sonil himself had already left – he had been warned by relatives from Lahore, so instead his wife and father were taken to the police.

“Several days later I found out that my friends had their fingers, toes and ears cut off. Then the police came to our house in Sargodha. They tortured my father, tortured my wife. They beat my father, mocked our God, and broke everything. They did not manage to find me, so they took my father to the station. Zarish was worried, crying, calling for help. Our neighbors went to the police together, promising to find me if they let my father go. He was released, but it became clear that now all of us were in danger. The pastor said that even our little son would not survive there.”

The family decided to flee. They went to a travel agency and asked to issue them any visa in order to leave the country as soon as possible. They discussed the options of Thailand and Malaysia without insisting, and did not mention anything about the persecution.

“On May 7, a travel agent called us and said that we could collect our documents. “The country you are traveling to is Russia.”

That was unexpected. Sonil’s family did not know anything about Russia, but they arrived there – there was nowhere else to run.

The family has been living in Moscow for over a year now. Their situation remains desperate: all members of the family were denied asylum. This decision of the Federal Migration Service will be appealed by Civic Assistance’s lawyers, but there is little hope for a positive outcome of the case. The Committee is providing support to the family, but our capabilities are limited, and they still need more help.

“I want to ask our Christian brothers and sisters to help us. I am used to working, not begging, but we are facing a very difficult situation. Please help us. We have no work; we cannot pay for the apartment and buy baby food. We really need a job and new, cheap housing. I speak English well and I have a good education, my wife also speaks well and we really want to do something that will help us get out of this situation.”

Text: Elena Srapyan

Pictures: Alexander Fedorov

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