By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
PATTOKI, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- The chief lawyer defending Christian women who were reportedly sexually abused by activists of Pakistan's ruling party said Monday, June 24, that Muslim militants have threatened to kill him if he and his legal team continue with this case or others, including attacks on a Christian neighborhood and rape.
Sardar Mushtag Gill, who heads the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) group, told BosNewsLife that he and a friend were "forcibly stopped at gunpoint by three armed men" Sunday, June 23, while driving home on a motorbike after meeting the mistreated women and their family in Sereser Chak No. 21 village, in the Kasur district of Punjab province.
"After we were stopped at Bypass Multan road they threatened to kill us while shooting in the air," Gill recalled. "I am confused that they didn't tell anything else...They just terrified us by their [potentially] deadly act", he added.
Gill, 32, said he had spoken with the recently attacked Christians about presenting a petition on June 24 asking the nearby Pattoki Court to detain the suspects, who have been linked to the governing Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N).
He explained that sisters Arshad Bibi, Sajida Bibi and Sauriya Bibi, were abused by armed men and an influential landlord because goats owned by the women allegedly entered the landlord’s fields and damaged crops.
The incident occurred on the night of June 3 when male members of the family were attending to their jobs, Gill noted. Rights investigators said the attackers entered the house by jumping the boundary wall and unlocking the gate from the inside.
The women, all in their late 20s, were soon "brutally beaten and then paraded naked by armed men" employed by Muhammad Munir, the son of Abdul Rasheed, a landlord supported by the PML-N, Gill said.
In general BosNewsLife publishes names of suspects and abuse victims only if they are publicly identified. Gill said he is concerned that local police have "not acted on the complaint of physical abuse filed by the Christians," amid apparent PML-N pressure.
Instead, PML-N Parliamentarian Rana Ishaq "is forcing the police not to act against the perpetrators as they are also supporters of the ruling party," said the Asian Human Rights Commission, a major advocacy group.
Ishaq could not immediately be reached for comment but has so far declined to comment on the case.
Gill also suggested that the threats by militants was linked to his involvement in petitioning the Lahore High Court to cancel the release on bail granted to dozens of "Muslim extremists" who he said were involved in torching up to 100 homes and injuring dozens in a Christian neighborhood of Lahore city.
As many as 3,000 Muslims rampaged through Lahore's Joseph Colony on March 9 "to search" for Savan Masih, 26, after hearing reports that the Christian man committed blasphemy against Islam.
Masih has strongly denied the charges. "The next date of the hearing on dismissing the release on bail is fixed June 27," Gill announced. Additionally, the Christian lawyer has come under pressure after successfully asking a court this month to dismiss the release on bail of a suspect in the rape of a Christian girl.
The 15-year-old Fouzia Bibi was raped January 25 by two armed Muslim men in Punjab province in a case that shocked the Christian community and underscored wider concerns over mistreatment of Christian women and girls, Gill said.
Despite the death threats, he told BosNewsLife that his group would continue to defend Christians. "We are not cowards. We will not stop tocarry out what we were assigned to do by Jesus, to fulfill His mission in Pakistan," the married young man said.
Gill isn't the only prominent Christian rights defender to receive death threats. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was shot and killed in January 2011 by one of his security guards after publicly criticizing controversial blasphemy laws under which several Christians have been detained.
Federal Minister for Minority affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was killed in March that year after questioning the same blasphemy legislation.
"I and my LEAD team know what is the meaning of cross [of Jesus] but are following the cross and ready to sacrifice for the cause," Gill stressed. "We know the militants mindset. Those who are against the Christian faith are making such coward plans," the lawyer added.
He said his group had urged Christians to pray for his team that "God gives wisdom ,courage and bravery to face such kinds of threats and attacks with smiling faces" and for "support in making some arrangements for security."
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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