Escalated Violence Against Christians Plant Fear in South Asia

Violence against Christians in South Asia intensified with the start of the New Year, planting fears within Christian communities of another round of targeted persecution.

Attacks against Christians in Pakistan began with the homicide of a 50-year old Church of God pastor, Jan. 8. Pastor Mukhtar Masih's body was found less than 45 minutes after he left his home to catch a train around 3 a.m. Police ruled out robbery as a motive because cash and necessary documents were found untouched in his pockets. Instead, they are calling the case a grudge killing.

"It is so cold in Pakistan in January at 3 a.m. that no sane person would be out unless they had a clear purpose, as did Pastor Mukhtar," said a source in Pakistan. "So [the police] speculate that someone must have learned his intention to catch the train and laid in wait for him."

Masih, a pastor for 14 years, had regularly conducted 10 minutes of prayer and Bible reading over the Church of God loudspeaker at 6 a.m. each day; his congregants reported such public prayers posed a threat on his life. Masih leaves behind a wife and seven children.

In Pradesh, India, a 9-year old girl was found dead in a mission school compound Jan. 14. While police arrested a man who reportedly confessed to raping and killing the girl and throwing her body into the school grounds, Compass Direct staff members say the murder is part of a conspiracy against their Christian School. Seven staff members in charge of the school was arrested that day. In addition, Compass Direct reported that several houses owned by Christians were burned to the ground.

On Jan. 15, again in Pakistan, a car bomb exploded outside the Pakistan Bible Society adjacent to the Episcopal Holy Trinity Church, injuring two Christian staff members on site. This attack followed the first attack 15 minutes earlier, when two motorcyclists threw a bomb into the Bible society's reading room.

"The attack is very similar in tactics to those used by Islamic militants fighting against the Indian army in Kashmir, but it is the first time that such a callous strategy of drawing crowds to their potential death has been used in Karachi," the Barnabas Fund, an international organization working among Christian minorities under Islam, said in a report.

"The attack is the first one on a Christian institution in Pakistan in more than half a year. Pakistani Christians are fearing this may mark the beginning of another campaign of violence against them," the Barnabas Fund continued.

Pakistani police have arrested a member of the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi for his suspected involvement in the Bible society bombing, and they have recovered a huge cache of bombs and related materials including maps of churches and Christian institutions, according to Kendal. The day after the man's arrest, seven Al Qaeda suspects were arrested in the same neighborhood, though there was no indication of any link, according to the Associated Press.

In Sri Lanka, a door was set on fire and a cross was vandalized at a Catholic church near Colombo, Jan. 20. A week earlier, Buddhist protestors set fire to another Catholic church in Colombo, adding to the string of at least 65 attacks on churches in Sri Lanka in the past year.