Christians Protest Burning of Pakistan Churches; Demand Protection

Christians in Pakistan protested and demanded protection publicly on Sunday, one day after at least two churches were burned down by over 1,000 Muslims.

Christians in Pakistan protested and demanded protection publicly on Sunday, one day after at least two churches were burned down by over 1,000 Muslims.

Hundreds of Christians on Sunday were forced to worship in an open area in the rural town of Sangla Hill, west of Lahore, capital of Punjab province. Wearing black armbands, men and women protested the attacks on churches and demanded protection for the local minority community, according to the Agence France Presse (AFP).

No violence occurred in the protest as the Catholic Archbishop Lawrence Saldanaha advised the crowd not to take revenge.

"They held their Sunday mass and dispersed peacefully," a local police officer Mohammad Asghar told AFP.

The protest was in response to the unrest on Saturday, Nov. 12, which broke out when a massive mob of angry Muslims torched a series of Christian settlements in Sangla Hill at around 10:00 a.m. According to the Pakistani newspaper DAWN, Catholic Archbishop Saldanaha said a Roman Catholic Church and a Presbyterian Church, a Sisters’ Convent, a Christian School building and a Pastor’s house were destroyed.

A third church – the Salvation Army – and the houses of some Christians were reportedly attacked as well, according to the Pakistan Christian Post.

After the violence, witness Atif Jamil told AFP on Saturday that "everything has been turned into ashes.” However, no deaths or injuries have been discovered by agencies so far.

An anonymous local police official also told AFP on Saturday that "about 1,000 to 1,200 Muslims today attacked and set on fire three churches here but no one was injured."

The attack, according to AFP, was triggered by the Muslims who accused a Christian named Yousaf Masih of blasphemy for allegedly desecrating the Koran.

However, a later report on Sunday unveiled another side story, quoting Akram Gill, a minority Christian MP.

"A Muslim cobbler and a goldsmith lost money to the accused Yousaf Masih in gambling. They refused to pay the money and created this nuisance," Gill said.

Certain human rights group and Christian leaders in Pakistan also ruled out the claim that Mashih had desecrated the Koran.

"No Christian burned copies of the Quran. No Christian even can think of doing it. We have maximum regard and respect for the Quran and Islam's Prophet Muhammad," Shahbaz Bhatti, head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, told the Associated Press (AP) on Saturday.

All Pakistan Minorities Alliance promotes the rights of minorities, such as Christians, in the predominantly-Muslim nation.

According to a report on Monday by Pakistani newspaper DAWN, Bhatti agreed that the desecration allegation was an attempt at revenge over a gambling loss. He also denounced local Muslim leaders of using mosque public-address systems to urge Muslims to attack the churches.

In the case that Masih is found guilty of desecrating the Koran, the crime is punishable by death under the blasphemy law in Pakistan. Many human rights activists have already protested over the fact that the law is often misused to settle personal vendettas against the minority Christian community.

A group of leading Christian organizations held an emergency press conference in Lahore on Sunday to raise concern over the blasphemy law.

At the conference, officials at the National Commission of Justice and Peace (NCJP) said the law is "a main source and tool for creating social, sectarian and inter-religious disharmony in the country," according to DAWN.

The Catholic Church body condemned the ministries’ negligence that has led to injustice, adding that the government should take steps to educate people about tolerance and peace, remove religious biases and repeal discriminatory laws, DAWN reported.

It also urged for the police to protect Christian communities, complaining that they have failed to uphold justice, according DAWN.

Furthermore, the NCJP accused the police of being “involved in the act of terror” and “using religion for hatred against religious minorities."

The NCJP is demanding an immediate judicial enquiry to establish the causes and responsibility of the incidents and for action to be taken against the policemen for their negligence.

In addition the NCJP, those involved in the emergency press meeting included the Catholic Church, the Church of Pakistan, the National Council of Churches, and The Salvation Army, reported sources from the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN).

The Christian organizations have decided on gathering on Thursday to stage a countrywide "protest and prayer day," when all Christian missionary schools will be closed and peace walks will be staged in the country, AFP reported.

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