Saddique Azam, a Catholic teacher who was recently appointed principal of a primary school in a small village of Pakistan, was severely beaten and tortured by three Islamist extremist teachers who said they refused to work under a Christian.
Ever since Azam’s promotion to principal of the Pernawa Village School three months ago, the Muslim teachers have expressed hatred and resentment against him, referring to him as “choora,” an offensive word used to describe Christians in Pakistan.
The Muslims had filed complaints to the district authority of the Kasur Education Officer because the appointment had been assigned to a Christian rather than a Muslim. They also threatened Azam with “serious consequences” if he failed to comply with their demands for him to step down.
On the morning of October 5, the three Muslim teachers entered the headmaster’s office and repeated threats for him to resign, saying, “You are a Christian and Choora so how can you be headmaster and our senior?”
The assailants told Azam that if he wanted to remain principal, he would have to work according to their direction. When Azam refused to accept their demands, the teachers severely beat him, resulting in severe injuries to his left eye and hospitalization.
Other school employees called the police to the school, who arrested the three teachers, though they reportedly failed to file a report of the incident and made no official charges.
Azam was promoted to principal three months ago, but has been disputed ever since and has yet to be acknowledged by the official district education department.
“Christians in Pakistan continue to suffer discrimination because of their faith, bolstered by the laws that legitimize discrimination,” according to Sardar Mushtaq Gill, who offers free legal assistance to Christian victims of abuse and violence.
In June, the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called on the U.S. government to recognize Pakistan as a “country of particular concern,” which would allow sanctions to be imposed on the Pakistani government for its misuse of blasphemy laws.
USCIRF’s independent status has given it the political freedom to maintain pressure on countries like Pakistan and Cuba, despite hesitation on the part of the U.S. government to draw attention to their religious rights violations.
The Commission has said that Pakistan’s selective and often arbitrary enforcement of the blasphemy law exceeds that of any other nation, and is often used to target religious minorities, such as Christians. Accusations of blasphemy have also served to incite mob violence, with people acting as vigilantes and taking the law into their own hands.
“The blasphemy law on its face flatly violates both freedom of religion and freedom of expression. Worse still, Pakistan vigorously applies this law,” USCIRF Commissioners Katrina Lantos Swett and Mary Ann Glendon said in an essay this past summer.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.