The rapes of eight Christian Pakistani (seven of them teenagers) near Lahore, combined with suspicions of an official coverup, have outraged local Christians. The resulting court case is becoming a test for whether Christians can get a fair hearing in this Muslim-majority country of 143 million.On a Wednesday last May, the victims and other women were riding home from their jobs at Lavaira Stitching Factory. Another vehicle suddenly began chasing the factory van. The van driver was forced at gunpoint to park in a field. "They separated the Christian girls from the Muslim ones and taking us [Christians] one by one, raped us at gunpoint," one of the victims said in a written statement. "We begged for their mercy and shouted, but there was no one to listen and help us." Muslim women in the van were left unharmed.The victims' families immediately reported the incident to local police. But local residents say the police came to the victims' villages four days later, warning them to be quiet about the crime because their accused attackers were influential.Village police refusing to help Christian victims of violent crime is not unusual. "While the [Pakistani] constitution grants citizens the right to 'profess, practice, and propagate' their religion, the government imposes limits on freedom of religion," says the U.S. Department of State's Human Rights Report for 1999. "Police at times refuse to prevent violent acts or charge persons who commit them."

Threats, intimidation

When police refused to register complaints against the accused, the victims' families turned to the Christian Liberation Front Pakistan (CLFP), a 50,000-member organization advocating human rights for Pakistan's non-Muslim minorities."CLFP believes in peaceful ...

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