Gulzar Masih, 45, told BosNewsLife he was recently being forced to recite verses considered holy by Muslims to force him to convert to Islam by two Muslim men at a truck stand in the town of Mandi Bahawaldin in Punjab province.
He said he "had been a professional driver for the last 20 years at Mandi Bhawaldin," owning his own mini truck and "had been living and working with other drivers in a friendly and pleasant atmosphere, until they came to know that I am a Christian."
Masih said the difficulties began about 6 months ago when a local hotel boss asked him not to dine their, "simply because I am a Christian, an untouchable." Two Muslim men, identified as Khawar Butt and Baatti, allegedly forced him to utter "the Holy Kalima", or Islamic verses,
"and embrace Islam," at a truck stand where he and several other drivers were having their break.
Two days after the incident, he was attacked again while visiting a local iron smith store. The same two men and the younger brother of the iron smith, Muhammad Khalid, allegedly "abused and forced" him out of the shop, "hurling death threats" because he refused to abandon his faith in Jesus Christ. “All these men were my good friends, until they learnt that I am a Christian," he added.
The impoverished Gulzar Masih, a father of two, said the incident has almost spoiled his freight business. Pressured by church leaders, the High Court of Lahore ordered police to register the case by October 29, a procedure that allows the detention of the two suspects.
Masih said he can not return to his home at the town of Sargodha in Punjab province till the suspects are arrested. The chairman of advocacy group Rays Of Development (www.raysofdevelopment.org), Ferhan Mazher, said his group had investigated the case and had urged "law enforcement agencies and government should to take notice of such horrible incidents by Islamic religious radicals."
The case is no isolated incident in the region, human rights watchers say. On Thursday, October 25, Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC), said the homes of three Christian families were recently demolished by local Muslims in the village of Lobhana near Lahore. It cited Christian villagers as saying that "the land where several homes were located had been given to them by the Pakistani government more than ten years ago. However, some local Muslims laid claim to the land, intending to build a cemetery."
VOMC said that last week, October 19, over 70 armed villagers moved in with tractors and began destroying the homes. "They demolished and looted three homes and were stopped only when the police arrived." Some of the Christians reported that the attackers threatened to kill them.
Christian groups have urged Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf to increase protection for religious minorities and Christians amid concerns about rising Islamic extremism in the country. On Thursday, October 25, at least 30 people, including 17 soldiers, were killed when an explosion ripped through a security vehicle packed with ammunition in northwestern Pakistan, the French News Agency AFP quoted a senior security official as saying. More details were not immediately available.
It was the second attack within a week following the Karachi blasts targeting former Prime Minister Benzair Bhutto, which killed about 140 people, including Christian workers.