Indian Christians Stage Protest in Support of Pakistani Brethren

NEW DELHI, India – Lending voices of support for their brethren in Pakistan, Christians on Friday held a protest rally before the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi, requisitioning "strong action" against the perpetrators of violence in a memorandum addressed to Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari

Called in the wake of recent violence on a Christian neighborhood in Pakistan's Gojra city, the protest expressed "anguish at the brutal burning alive of nine Christians and destruction of 200 houses in arson" over a rumor of Koran desecration on Aug. 1. They also pressed for the repeal of all blasphemy laws.

The protest was organized by the National United Christian Forum, alongside the All India Christian Council, Global Council of Indian Christians and other groups.

"The Christian community in India joins with the peace-loving people across the world and supports the demand by Pakistan Civil Society and the Minority communities, specially the Christians, for strong action to bring the guilty to book and to create an environment of peace," the memorandum, signed by NUCF president Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao, reads.

Submitted through the Pakistan High Commission, the statement called for the repeal of blasphemy laws "that [were] repeatedly being misused and had now caused the death of nine innocent Christians."

Last week, Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani had agreed to review "laws that were detrimental to religious harmony."

A Bangalore-based Christian advocacy group said it was aghast at the violence on the microscopic Christian community in Pakistan and expressed anguish over the "systematic oppression against non Muslims."

Clamoring for justice, Global Council of Indian Christians said that the case of Christians who are generally impoverished and marginalized was being trivialized by the Pakistan administration.

GCIC president Dr. Sajan George demanded the elimination of blasphemy laws that he said were in "violation of basic fundamental rights and against universal declaration of human rights."

"No incident of blasphemy of Koranic verses occurred in Gojra and no Christian could ever think of doing this even in their wildest dreams. The so-called champions of Islam are wrecking havoc with the religious minorities and are further defaming Pakistan and Islam in the world," he said.

Christians who make up less than five percent of Pakistan's 175 million people have been recently through many testing times that have caused both physical and mental travail.

A month before the Gojra incident, an entire Christian colony in one of the oldest cities in Pakistan was pounced upon by marauding mobs. No children and women were spared.

The incident at Kasur in Bahmniwala district occurred over a trivial dispute and the violence that ensued led to the fleeing of about 700 Christians. Their houses were burned with petrol-bombs even amid the presence of police.

But the Gojra incident amplified the clamor for peace and justice even as the Pope and the World Council of Churches condemned the "burning alive of Christians" and called for a ban on blasphemy laws.

"We believe that it is the responsibility of the State to provide security to all its citizens in the country, particularly in a region where communal tensions and chances for violence run a high risk," WCC general secretary the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia wrote to Zardari.

In a telegram last Monday, the Pope expressed "deep sorrow" over the violence and urged Christians to remain calm and continue its efforts in building a community of "peace" and "mutual respect."