By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– One of Pakistan’s leading Christian lawyers confirmed Monday, November 11, that he has survived another apparent assassination attempt by suspected Islamic militants. “I am being targeted by extremists who want me to end my legal support to victims in blasphemy cases,” said Sardar Musthtag Gill, director of the advocacy group Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD).
Gill, who is in hiding, told BosNewsLife that gunshots were heard November 2 on the street outside his home in Lahore city. “I was was not at home at the time as my wife urged me in a mobile phone text message to stay away following previous threats,” he explained.
Gill said his brother found bullet shells following the attack.
The human rights defender asked him to make a complaint at a local police station the following day.
This wasn’t the first incident. The 32-year-old Gill, who is married and has one child, made headlines after he was held at gunpoint in June this year by three armed men who threatened him with “dire consequences”, reportedly in relation to his advocacy work.
Gill told BosNewsLife at the time that he had been targeted for defending Christian women who were paraded naked in Kasur district.
A month later, in July, some six fighters of militant group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat came looking for Gill at his home in an apparent attempt to kill him, the lawyer recalled.
Lawyers affiliated with LEAD have complained that they too were harassed and threatened for their human rights work.
On June 4, this year, LEAD’s lawyers reportedly petitioned the Lahore High Court to cancel bail against individuals who had allegedly attacked Christians in Lahore’s Joseph Colony in March 2013.
Gill told BosNewsLife that he feared new attacks against the Christian community if the suspects were to be released.
However, he said, LEAD lawyers were unable to attend a court hearing after being threatened by individuals who demanded that they withdrew the petition.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif is under pressure to increase protection for Gill and other minority Christians in this Islamic nation.
PRIME MINISTER PRESSURED
In a letter to Sharif, seen by BosNewsLife, a prominent rights official asked him to properly investigate the threats and violence.
“I believe that the gunshots in front of Sardar Mushtaq Gill’s house are directly related to his work in the defence of human rights,” wrote William Nicholas Gomes, the human rights ambassador for Salem-News.com, which investigates reported persecution cases.
Gomes, who himself was forced to flee his native Bangladesh for his Christian activities and rights work, said he was concerned that the threats were “in particular” for Gill’s “role in supporting victims who have been accused of blasphemy” against Islam, and for those who were “maltreated due to their faith” in Christ.
In the letter he asked the prime minister to ensure that authorities, “carry out a thorough, impartial and immediate investigation into the recent shootings outside” the lawyer’s home, “as well as the previous attacks and intimidation directed at him.”
Gomes urged the prime minister to detain those responsible for violence and bring them “to justice in accordance with international standards” and to improve protection for Gill, his family, and other LEAD members.
“All human rights defenders in Pakistan [should be] able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including physical threats and intimidation,” he wrote.
Pakistani authorities did not immediately comment Monday, November 11.
There has been mounting pressure on the government to overturn controversial blasphemy laws that activists say contributed to violence and the imprisonment of several Christians in the country.