25 Christians Abducted by Islamic Militants in Pakistan

Despite the Pakistan government's tall claims of enhanced protection to the minorities, a group of over 20 Christians were kidnapped and savagely beaten by armed Islamic militants on Saturday.

Christians who were congregating for a religious prayer in Banarasabad, Peshawar, were held at gunpoint by the militants, who took the believers in more than six vehicles to an undisclosed location.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani said on Sunday that the government had secured the release of 16 members of the minority Christian community who were abducted in the restive North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

"We condemn this act and, despite the recovery of the abductees, an enquiry will be held to uncover the faces behind the incident," Gilani said, accoridng to a state-run Pakistan television news channel.

According to the news channel, a "religious organization" operating in Bara area of Khyber district handed over the hostages after government representatives held serious negotiations with the abductors.

Zulfiqar Masehi, Hameed Mashi, Shehzad Noor Mashi, Victor Jan Mashi, Gulzaar Mashi, Khalid Mashi, Shahbaz Mashi, Tariq Mashi, Yousaf Mashi, Salim Mashi, Khalid, and Salim Akhar were among the kidnapped Christians released by the efforts of political administration.

While the police has registered the case and is investigating the abduction, the NWFP government suspended SSP (Operations) Peshawar, SP Cantontment, ASP Hayatabad, SHO Hayatabad and other staff after the incident.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India expressed deep concern over the incident and urged the people and the authorities in Pakistan to take appropriate measures to create a safe and secure atmosphere for the Christian community in the country.

EFI General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Richard Howell, requested prayers for the release of the remaining hostages and that the crisis would be resolved peacefully.

With the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan, nearby Afghanistan, Jammu and Kashmir, the plights of Christians have only increased and the freedom of religious minorities has steadily been attacked.

Last September 2007, a group of Islamic militants in North West Frontier and Punjab provinces threatened Christians "to either convert to Islam, leave the country or face death."

Following the threats, hundreds of Christian families fled the villages, while several churches were reportedly burnt.

The voices of Christians in the country fall on deaf ears, even as the governing authorities fail to curb the issue and bind the religious fundamentalists behind the atrocities against Christians.

The country is comprised of a 97.6 percent Muslim population. Christians make up 1.7 percent and Hindus, 1.5 percent. Seventy percent of the microscopic Christian population is the poorest segment in the society.