A few days ago, I received notice that a friend in Pakistan has received death threats from militants because he has been speaking up for the rights of persecuted people, especially Christians, in Pakistan. I first met Joseph Francis in 2008, when I filmed his visit to Washington, DC, to make appeals on behalf of Pakistani minorities to the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. He is an attorney and the national director for CLAAS (the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement) in Lahore, Pakistan.
Joseph Francis works with Virginia-based attorney Ann Buwalda of the Jubilee Campaign, another human rights organization that protects religious liberty. When I was working on my book, Radical Womanhood, I decided that a portion of my book royalties would be dedicated to Jubilee to support their efforts. It's through Jubilee that I became aware of Joseph Francis. But now, after two high profile assassinations of Pakistani leaders who advocated to end the blasphemy law, I have become very concerned for our brothers and sisters who are in Pakistan. Last week, the Pakistan Christian Post carried this notice about Joseph:
The London office of CLAAS have appealed for special prayer request for the safety and protection of Joseph Francis, the director of CLAAS Pakistan, who has received death threats from militants because of his work speaking up for the rights of persecuted people, especially Christians, in Pakistan. The death threats started coming in after Mr. Francis spoke about the misuse of the blasphemy laws on the Policy Matters programme on the Duniya TV channel and Kal Tak on the Express TV Channel.
After the murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti in the last few months, these threats are being taken extremely seriously.
Religious extremists have become active in their pursuit of the full imposition of Sharia law in Pakistan. They are silencing anyone who speaks up in support of changes to the blasphemy laws, and the lives of those advocating the protection of human rights at this time are at real risk.
Despite the dangers, Mr Francis is refusing to back down and we urge you to keep him and all CLAAS staff in your prayers as they continue to serve on behalf of persecuted people in Pakistan.
Mr Francis said: “Even though I am receiving threats to my life, as a soldier of Christ I am willing to stand up for the rights of those persecuted and pressed down by these unjust laws, even if the ultimate goal demands my blood too.
“I know I have opposition from the religious extremists who want to stop me from defending my brothers and sisters in Christ from all kinds of persecution, but I will continue my struggle for the repeal of blasphemy and other Islamic discriminatory laws.”
I've written previously about Christians persecuted under the blasphemy law in Pakistan. So now I'm soliciting prayers not only for Joseph Francis' safety, but also for the complete dismantling of this law. It's a bold prayer request, but I offer it in the spirit of King Hezekiah's faith. In the 2 Kings 19 account, when Hezekiah is taunted by the king of Assyria not to trust in God, he goes to the house of the Lord to ask God to uphold His name: "So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone" (v. 19).