Pakistani Christian refugee looks to Canada for help after death threats

22 July 2019

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

A plea has been issued for Canada to rescue a Pakistani Christian refugee who is in hiding after a viral video calling on jihadi fighters to kill him swept through Bangkok’s refugee community.

The appeal was made to Canada’s ambassador in Bangkok, Donica Pottie, after Australia rejected an emergency asylum appeal from Faraz Pervaiz, a prominent defender of Christian rights. It comes two months after Canada gave asylum to Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman forced into hiding from Muslim extremists following false accusations of blasphemy.

Pervaiz is a Pakistani Christian refugee who fled to Bangkok after being accused in Pakistan of blasphemy under laws which can result in a death sentence. He has several fatwas against him, calling for him to be killed.

His location in Bangkok was revealed last week in a video released on social media that went viral. Following death threats by phone and text he moved his family to a secret location outside of the city.

The video posted to Facebook, YouTube and several WhatsApp groups called for jihadi fighters to travel to Bangkok and kill Pervaiz. Several mullahs attached “fatwas,” or religious rulings, to the video to endorse killing Pervaiz.

“She’s saying (in the video) this is the responsibility of every Muslim in this world to find me, and to kill me,” Pervaiz told Canadian Catholic News. “Since this (video) proclamation, the danger is that the jihadis are coming, day by day. Once they come to know exactly where I am, it takes one hour.”

Pervaiz, accompanied by his wife, three children and his parents, is being supported by Australian Jesuit Rev. Michael Kelly. 

“The would-be assassins continue to ring and assure Faraz that they’ll find him and kill him and his family,” said Kelly in an e-mail. “I’d take them at their word.”

A long-time Bangkok resident and advocate for refugee rights, Kelly is assisting the Office for Refugees, Archdiocese of Toronto to resettle up to 63 Pakistani Christian families through Canada’s private sponsorship program.

The number of refugees headed to Canada will depend on how many dioceses and parishes agree to make the financial and volunteer commitment to resettle them, but that process takes an average of two years. Kelly is seeking immediate action to rescue Pervaiz.

He appealed to the Australian government in a July 18 e-mail to Ambassador Allan McKinnon. After an initially positive response, the request was denied on July 20 without an explanation.

“Next stop, the Canadian Ambassador,” said Kelly in an e-mail to Canadian Catholic News.

Pervaiz and his family are hiding in a one-room apartment, staying indoors 24 hours a day.

For more than a year, Pervaiz has had a price on his head of 10 million Pakistani rupees (about $82,000) issued by Pakistan’s populist, conservative political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik — the same party that urged Muslims to kill Bibi after she was acquitted of blasphemy by Pakistan’s supreme court. Following several months in hiding, Bibi was granted asylum and in May resettled at a secret location in Canada.

Pervaiz, who fled Pakistan in 2014, and his family had been relatively safe in Bangkok because Pakistani extremists thought he was in the Netherlands. Tehreek-e-Labbaik even organized a rally in front of the Dutch embassy in Islamabad last year, calling on the Netherlands government to return Pervaiz to Pakistan.

But he was discovered to be living in Bangkok and, after his address was revealed in the video, Pervaiz was in immediate fear for his family and his life.

The video was made by a Pakistani Muslim refugee, well known among Bangkok’s 1,500 Christian refugees, named Saira Ismail. Several Pakistani Christians told Canadian Catholic News Ismail often socialized with the Christians in Bangkok, attending Church dances and asking for food and rent aid.

Pervaiz said Ismail had requested aid from the small Christian church his family attends, but the church had no funds to help her.

Ismail’s video begins by displaying her identity card issued by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.  

The UNHCR office in Bangkok contacted Google and Facebook and eventually succeeded in having the video blocked. The refugee agency said it was unable to comment specifically on Ismail’s case or her actions.

“UNHCR counsels all its asylum seekers and refugees regularly to respect Thai laws at all times given that asylum seekers and refugees are subject to Thai laws while residing in the Kingdom of Thailand,” said UNHCR Thailand spokesperson Jennifer Harrison.

Ultimately, responsibility for protecting refugees falls to Thai officials, she said. 

“A host government shoulders the main responsibility for protecting and assisting refugees on its territory. UNHCR works to provide support until the particular government can assume this responsibility on its own,” Harrison said.

Pervaiz said a UN official advised him to leave Thailand. Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 Geneva convention on refugees and regards refugees as illegals.

“The UN protection officer said to me, ‘Why don’t you cross the border and go to Burma. Why don’t you go to another country. Muslims are everywhere, so we cannot protect you,’” Pervaiz told Canadian Catholic News.

 “I said, what are you talking about? You are not a peanut. You are a big elephant in this world. … I said you are putting my life in danger again.”

Pervaiz has been a target of Pakistan’s religious conservatives since he began speaking out in defence of Christians after a 2013 mob attack on a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province.

He led protests demanding action from the police and ran a blog in which he challenged both the politics and theology of Islam, presented his own interpretations of the Quran and criticized the Prophet. His father was a political leader in the Christian community and was nominated to sit in Parliament. 

“We are not criminals. Our only crime is that we speak against their brutality,” Pervaiz said. “I don’t have words to explain to you their barbarism towards us. How Christians are marginalized every day. No one raised this issue.”

In 2017 an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan acquitted 106 Muslims accused of torching Christian houses in the 2013 mob attack.