Friday, August 7, 2009

In the Name of Blasphemy, Pakistani Christians Under Frequent Attack - 1

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Map Courtesy: http://www.maps.com/

Muslims Burn Down Christian Colony
and Kill 9 Persons
in Gojra Town
of Toba Tek Singh District

A violent mob of about 1,000 Muslims, on August 1, rampaged through Gojra, a town near Faislabad of the Punjab Province, looted 100 homes, set fire and burnt 50 homes and killed 9 persons, including women and children. The mob attack was the culmination of days of uneasy tension between Muslims and Christians of the area instigated by a rumour that Christians had desecrated pages of a Quran. Gojra is a Christian colony, where 2,000 Christian families -- both Protestant and Catholic -- live.

Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and the federal minister for minorities, said that the allegation of defiling the Quran is false.

The attackers used a special type of chemical to set fire on houses. Because of the presence of chemical, this type of fire cannot be extinguished easily. This chemical was used for the first time in the Muslim attack on the Christian village of Shanti Nagar in February, 1997. The same chemical was used in the assault on Sangla Hill Town in 2005 and recently on the village of Korian on July 30, 2009. All these attacks took place in the Punjab Province.

Witnesses said that on July 31, a mosque mike had publicly urged Muslims to make mincemeat of the Christians. The police knew about it but took no actions.

Rana Sanaullah, the Punjab Provincial Law Minister, blamed the Sipahi-e-Saheba and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi -- two Al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked Muslim militant groups -- for this attack. Several of the attackers used face masks to hide their identity. Many of the mob came from the Jhang district, the birthplace of these two organizations.

Pakistan's President Asif Zardari announced a compensation package for the families of the victims. A family losing a member would be given 500,000 rupees (about US $6,000) as compensation, and a family losing a home, would get 300,000 rupees.

Justice Iqbal Hameedur Rehman of the Lahore High Court went to Gojra to start the judicial inquiry, ordered by Prime Minister Yousaf Reza Gilani.

All Christian educational institutions in Pakistan remained closed for three days to mourn the dead.

Christians in Pakistan will observe the "Black Day" on August 11 by expressing their unity and solidarity by holding peaceful protest gatherings, wearing black bands and hoisting black flags on their houses.

On August 10, the Presidents of the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC) and Pakistani Christian Association of America (PCA) and the editor of the Pakistan Christian Post will address a press conference at the Press Club in Washington, D.C. On August 12, the Pakistani Christian Association of America will hold a protest rally in front of the U.N. headquarters in New York.

Condemnations of the Attack

The parliament of Pakistan unanimously condemned the attack against the Christians of Gojra and asked the Punjab provincial government to bring the culprits to justice.

Pope Benedict XVI in a telegram to Catholic Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad, Pakistan, deplored the violent attack on Christians at Gojra and appealed for mutual respect in the area.

Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, on behalf of the Pope Benedict XVI, mentioned in the telegram: "The Holy Father was deeply grieved to learn of the senseless attack on the Christian community of Gojra City which resulted in the tragic killing of innocent men, women and children, and immense destruction. He asks you to convey his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to express his solidarity with all who have experienced this wanton act," reports the Vatican radio.

The Pope also asked Bishop Coutts "to encourage the whole diocesan community, and all Christians in Pakistan, not to be deterred in their efforts to help build a mutual respect among all its members."

The Pope also appealed to all to "renounce the way of violence which causes so much suffering and to embrace the way of peace." He sent his apostolic blessing and consolation on all who mourn their dead.

Bishop Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the Anglican Church, called on the Pakistan government to protect the "small and vulnerable" Christian community, reports the Reuters. "The recent atrocities against Christians in Pakistan will sear the imaginations of countless people of all faiths throughout the world," he said.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva expressed their sympathy for and solidarity with the Christians of Pakistan.

Dr. Nazir S. Bhatti, President of Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), in a statement condemned the attack and said: "PCC demands Punjab government to adopt strict security measure to maintain law and order to ensure safety of life and property of Christians."

Pakistan, with a population of about 175 million, has 96% of Muslims (Sunni Muslims: 76% and Shia: 20%) and 3% Christians. There are also some Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Zoroastrians (Parsis), Ahmadias (Qadianis), Jews, Animists and Atheists in the country.


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