(Photo: The Christian Post/Asher John)
Pakistan will deploy extra police forces and snipers to protect churches in the eastern city of Lahore this Christmas to prevent possible attacks on the persecuted Christian minorities in the region, authorities said Wednesday.
An additional 2,500 policemen, including sharp shooters, will be protecting the area that is home to Christians living in Pakistan, Agence France-Presse reported. Police said there are 433 churches in the area.
"We have placed 38 churches in category A, which are most sensitive, and among them, 20 are even more sensitive as we expect foreigners to visit these churches on Christmas Eve," authorities told AFP.
Each of these churches will be assigned seven policemen and a sniper, and traffic will be banned in front of the buildings. Police will also install walk-through gates at the entrance of all church buildings to be operated by security staff.
Police spokesperson denied that authorities knew of any specific threat this year, but said precautions were being taken on a "general threat perception."
The Christian community is a vulnerable minority in the country that is 97 percent Muslim.
Many reports of persecution flow from Pakistan, most often involving cases of Christians being accused of blasphemy. Blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad can result in a death sentence, while offending the Quran can be punished with a lifetime prison sentence. But the actual definition of blasphemy is not sufficiently clear, experts say, and can even include a spelling error.
Christmas is a particularlydangerous season for Christians living in predominantly Muslim countries. Those attending church on Christmas day are exposed to potential attacks from Muslim extremists, experts have been telling The Christian Post.
Reports of mass arrests and attacks on churches have come from various Muslim countries every year, particularly during the holiday season. In Oct. 2010, 58 people were killed in an attack on a Baghdad church in Iraq, Our Lady of Salvation.
In addition, Lahore has suffered a series of attacks blamed on Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants. More than 4,700 people have been killed in general violence in the country since July 2007, according to AFP.