Pakistan Churches, Christian Schools Closed in Protest

All churches and Christian educational institutions in Pakistan were closed on Thursday in protest against last Saturday’s attacks on Christian settlements in Sangal Hill village.

All churches and Christian educational institutions in Pakistan were closed on Thursday in protest against last Saturday’s attacks on Christian settlements in Sangal Hill village.

Hundreds of Pakistani Christians wearing black arm bans were seen on Thursday taking their protest to the street. Not only had they requested a detailed investigation on the attacks, they also demanded that action be taken against the local police who allegedly failed to provide adequate security for Christians, according to the Associated Press (AP).

In a letter signed by four leading church leaders in Pakistan to the Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf released on Nov. 15, the leaders lamented over how the police had ignored the warning of a local priest the night before the attacks took place.

Moreover, hardly any policemen were on guard duty during the attacks, stated the letter. They also came in three hours late after about 1,500 Muslims burned down three churches in Sangla Hill, eastern province of Punjab.

Those who signed the letter include Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha, Catholic Archbishop of Lahore and President Catholic Bishops’ Conference; the Rev. Alexander J. Malik, Moderator for the Church of Pakistan; Victor Azariah of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan; and Col. Gulzar Patras, Territorial Commander of the Salvation Army.

Chairman of the All-Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), Shahbaz Bhattihas, addressed the demonstrators on Thursday and echoed those complaints from churches, AP reported.

"We were attacked in the daylight but police made no effort to stop the attackers," said Bhatti, who is a Christian.

According to another report by the Pakistani DAWN newspaper, Bhatti reiterated the demand of the Christian community of Sangla Hill that "the Pakistani prime minister or Punjab chief minister should visit the site of the incident and condemn the act of religious terrorism."

"The ash of holy Bibles and other damaged holy material will not be removed from the damaged church buildings until the chief minister or the prime minister visits the site of the incident," he declared.

A statement from APMA obtained by DAWN said that other religious minorities have joined Pakistani Christians to close their institutions and join in prayers, in order to highlight "the insecurity of minorities and stress the need for a long-term solution to problems of religious intolerance."

During Saturday’s incident, alongside with a Roman Catholic Church, a Presbyterian Church and a Salvation Army place of worship, a Sisters’ Convent, a Christian School building and a Pastor’s house were torched. The angry mob destroyed Bibles and holy materials as well.

The burnings were reportedly triggered by Muslims that accused a Christian named Yousaf Masih of blasphemy for allegedly desecrating the Koran. The Christian community, however, has defended Masih, claiming that two Muslims lost money to Masih in a gambling and attempted to make use of the blasphemy law to settle their personal conflicts.

The Police, meanwhile, have arrested around 90 people for rioting, according to Punjab government's home secretary Khusro Pervez. Masih was also detained for investigation.

Saleem and Benedict Masih, Yousaf’s younger brothers told Italy-based AsiaNews on Wednesday, "The Muslims have completely ransacked our houses and before the arrest of Yousaf they tortured and humiliated us at the police station."

According to AsiaNews, Christian lawyer Khalil Tahir said, "We will take this tragedy to international level and to the United Nations so they will be able to see how Christians are living in Pakistan and they can force Pakistan to repeal the blasphemy laws which is a root cause for such types of incidents."