By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- A prominent Christian rights lawyer who has been on the run in Pakistan amid death threats asked fellow believers Thursday, August 1, to pray for his family after armed Islamic militants discovered a hiding address.
Sardar Mushtag Gill told BosNewsLife that six men, some of them carrying guns, on Monday, July 29, visited a family home in the Pakistani city of Lahore where his younger brother opened the door. "They were members of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, the Islamic group that killed the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer, and Christian federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti in 2011 because they criticized Pakistan's blasphemy laws," he said.
"They told my brother they want to meet me, but I am sure they really wanted to kill me. They made that clear in letters I received," added Gill, who managed to escape. "The militants wrote that 'those who support a blasphemer must die'," he recalled.
Gill linked the latest threats to a Lahore trial court decision last week not to pursue a blasphemy case against his cousin Martha Bibi, 47, after she escaped with her family to Sri Lanka. "Under Pakistani law she will have to be in Pakistan for the trial. However if she returns, she may face arrest," he cautioned.
Bibi was initially detained in January 2007 on what Gill views as trumped-up charges of making “derogatory remarks” about Prophet Mohammed in an argument with a Muslim woman. Though Gill managed to get her released on bail of 100,000 Pakistani Rupee ($1,000) three months later, she remained concerned about her future.
YEARS OF UNCERTAINTY
Following six years of uncertainty Bibi was recently to appear in front of a Lahore court where she potentially faced the death penalty under the nation’s controversial blasphemy legislation, prompting activists of the Rescue Christians group to arrange her escape to Sri Lanka.
"The militants now want to punish me for defending her and others, including three Christian women who were recently sexually abused by activists of Pakistan's governing Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party," Gill said.
Coverage by BosNewsLife and other media on the June attack against sisters Arshad Bibi, Sajida Bibi and Sauriya Bibi, who were beaten and forced to parade naked in Sereser Chak No. 21 village in Punjab province, prompted the Lahore High Court to order a new investigation into alleged police wrongdoing in the case while questions were asked in Parliament.
Gill told BosNewsLife earlier that he was "forcibly stopped at gunpoint by three armed men" on June 23, while driving home on a motorbike after meeting the mistreated women and their family.
The 32-year-old lawyer, who leads the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD), said he is also concerned about his pregnant wife. "In September she is expecting our first child. She is now with her parents, while I am hiding in Lahore. We were forced to flee our home because of the dangers."
Gill said what his family "needs most is prayer" from Christians in Pakistan and around the world.
"My request is to everyone to pray for me and my family so that the Lord will give me divine strength to continue to stand for His people and do His will without fear," he stressed.
The young professional said he was thankful to the Christian Lawyers Association of Pakistan (CLAP) which condemned the death threats against him. "This was an encouragement. Often people express outrage or condolences only after someone is sentenced to death or otherwise killed. I saw that in the case of Asia Bibi, another Christian mother sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam. Only now people demand that she will be saved."
Representatives of Christians, who comprise roughly three percent of Pakistan's over 193 million people, have complained about rising Islamic extremism in the heavily Islamic nation.
Church groups also say that blasphemy legislation is often misused to detain believers or to settle personal disputes.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
Help BosNewsLife to be the voice of the voiceless. Click here for a subscription.