CNN Photos

The persecution of Pakistan’s Christian minority

In August 2009, an angry mob of extremist Muslims torched Christian homes in Gojra, Pakistan. At least seven people were shot to death or burned alive.

A few days after the attacks, American photographer Gary S. Chapman visited the area with his wife, Vivian, to document the aftermath.

“I want people to see my images and feel both discomfort and compassion at the same time,” he said recently. “I want them to try and see themselves in the situation I am witnessing.”

The violence in Gojra was incited by rumors of the desecration of pages of the Quran at a Christian wedding, police said. An investigation determined the allegations were baseless.

Chapman’s photos from the village are part of an ongoing project he started in 2005. He was in Pakistan to photograph relief efforts after a massive earthquake killed 86,000 people when he began to hear about the mistreatment of the Christian minority.

Through an interpreter, he learned about instances of rape, the lack of job and education opportunities, and people being beaten for drinking from the same water fountain as Muslims.

At large gatherings, the Christians would sometimes hire armed guards for protection. Despite their hardships, Chapman says many remain optimistic.

"I have been encouraged by the Christians of Pakistan that remain faithful, forever hopeful in the midst of real persecution," he said.

He has been to Pakistan four times now. During one trip, he visited a woman who had taken in several Christian children orphaned by the earthquake. Shortly after he left, an arsonist set fire to her home.

“Fortunately no one was hurt in the attack,” Chapman said. “But I had to ask myself if our presence there caused the attack. Was it a reprisal?”

Hoping to avoid bringing harm to the people who open up to him, he photographs many of his subjects in a way that obscures their faces. He also wears traditional Pakistani clothing and grows a long beard in order to fit in.

“After seeing the injustices in Pakistan, I’ve learned not to take my freedom for granted concerning my faith, livelihood, or even where I live,” Chapman said. “I am thankful for everything.”

- Brett Roegiers, CNN

Read Vivian Chapman’s Belief Blog post on the faith of Pakistani Christians.