ICV founder and president Peter Bhatti, pictured left.

International Christian Voice helps resettle persecuted Christians in Canada

  • July 17, 2013

OTTAWA - International Christian Voice (ICV) played a key role in publicizing the plight of Rimsha Masih who was charged with burning a Koran in Pakistan in August 2012.

Now Rimsha, 13, her parents and three siblings are safely in Canada.

News broke in late June that Immigration Minister Jason Kenney had intervened to bring the Masihs here on humanitarian and compassionate grounds as contacts in Pakistan said they could not guarantee their safety. The Masihs arrived in March and are living in the Toronto area.

According to ICV founder and president Peter Bhatti, the Masihs are settling in well in Canada. Though they are not affiliated with any particular Christian denomination, they are attending a Catholic church. They are learning English, have been going to school and are “very happy and integrating well,” he said. “They have a new life. They don’t fear someone will attack them or do damage to them.”

Bhatti said he is grateful a Christian group contacted Kenney and the minister responded. But the Masih’s plight may never have been on the minister’s radar screen if ICV had not launched a worldwide campaign to raise awareness.

Now ICV is raising awareness of a June attack on three Christian women who were paraded naked through their community, Bhatti said.

“We want to request the government of Pakistan to please look after that case and bring them to justice, and make sure Christians and other religious minorities of Pakistan are safe and nobody can have this kind of motive to do this kind of thing again,” he said.

“Just because they’re Christians, their goats got on a landlord’s lot and ate some crops,” he said, citing the motive for the women’s humiliation as revenge and “to give lessons to Christians” that they are powerless against Muslims.

There remain other high-profile cases where Christians are persecuted. Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was accused of blasphemy in 2009 for blaspheming Islam’s prophet, has remained in prison. Bibi’s name came into prominence in the public fight against the blasphemy laws fought by Bhatti’s younger brother, former Pakistan Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, and Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, who were both assassinated for fighting for the rights of Christians and other minorities.

Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated March 2, 2011 only weeks after visiting Canada and speaking to several cabinet ministers, including Kenney.

After Shahbaz’ death, his brother Dr. Paul Bhatti, a surgeon, joined the government as Minister of Interfaith Harmony. He also chairs the All Pakistan Minority Alliance (APMA). The APMA played a key role in protecting the Masih family and its community until the family could be spirited out of Pakistan, said Bhatti. The organization also helped members of their community with food and shelter until most of them have been resettled.

Rimsha, 13, is mentally challenged and looks about 11, Bhatti said. She was heading for the dump to discard wood ashes from their stove and a man came and mixed some pages of the Koran in her ashes. She did not know what she was holding, Bhatti said. Not only was Rimsha accused of burning the Muslim holy book, but she was also accused of violating the blasphemy law.

A local imam whipped up a mob that threatened to burn the whole community down, Bhatti said.

“These mobs were in the area wanting to burn all the Christians alive.”

ICV went to work in publicizing the injustice while the APMA worked in Pakistan to negotiate with the local imam, explain the false charges and to reduce tensions.

Bhatti said he wanted to thank the many in the Muslim community, including Muslim scholars, who came forward to protect the Masihs and their community. The president of Pakistan and the chief justice also played a positive role, he said.

The blasphemy laws have been misused by people seeking personal attention, those involved in personal disputes and other motives such as jealousy, Bhatti said.

Despite the recent success in helping the Masih family gain asylum and her community resettled, Bhatti said the prospects for Christians in Pakistan remains difficult.

“We are not very hopeful,” he said, noting he has not seen any improvements since the merger of the two ministries into one.

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