A Protestant Christian church was burned by suspected Islamic radicals in the village of Bath in Pakistani Punjab, leaving Christians in the community fearful and asking for protection.
Fides News Agency reported that the Protestant Christian congregation called "Apostolic Church" was set on fire last week following a dispute between Christians and Muslims in the village. The attack occurred the day after a prayer vigil for Epiphany on Jan. 6, when an arson destroyed the church building.
Pastor Zulfiqar of the Apostolic Church revealed that Bibles and sacred vessels were burned in the fire, and suggested that the earlier dispute between Muslims and Christians might have had something to do with the attack.
The British Pakistani Christian Association also reported the attack in Bath village, noting that it created "great suspicion and fear" among Christians in the community who believe it was a religiously motivated attack.
The fire was reported to the police, though authorities initially claimed that it could have been caused by a short circuit, and refused to file a report.
Dildar Bhatti, a local resident who lives close to the church, said police refused to cooperate with villagers.
"I showed police officials suspicious marks on the wall of the church that illustrated someone had climbed the church wall to gain entry to our church, but the police officers just ignored my evidence and did not add the detail to their reports," Bhatti said.
Karamat Masih, another local resident, added: "All the local Christians are now in great fear, the fire illustrates that Christians are not wanted in the local area."
Church officials believe that the damage, which includes lost furniture and upholstery, could be close to $1,000 USD, which is a lot for the community.
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the BPCA, said that the minority Christian population in Pakistan continues to face persecution.
"Inculcation of hatred toward minorities in national curriculum textbooks that demonize and caricature people outside of Islam, have only served to polarise society, creating great schism. There are protections for minorities in both the constitution and legal frameworks yet these are often obviated by officials seeped in the same hatred," Chowdhry said in a statement.
"Failure by the west to improve this situation for minorities through accountable use of foreign aid budget, has only exacerbated the situation. This has culminated in the quality of life for Christians in Pakistan reaching a nadir."
In a separate attack, churchgoers at Victory Church in Kasur found a young Muslim man burning copies of the Bible when they arrived to pray during service on the day of Epiphany on Wednesday.
The man was caught burning the Bibles and other Christian worship books, and was held by members of the congregation until local police arrived at the scene.
While the man was taken into custody, police again refused to file a First Incident Report, declaring that the man was mentally unstable and therefore unfit for prosecution.
Christians, including Pastor Nasir of Victory Church, argued that there are double-standards in the way criminals are treated.
"The reticence of the local police constabulary to prosecute Mr. Azhar illustrates their bias. Several mentally ill Christians have been arrested for blasphemy including 11-year-old Rimsha Masih in 2012, who was visibly a minor with a severe condition. Local Police in Kasur have informed the church that due to Azhbar's mental condition he cannot be held liable for his actions. This is very unfair," the pastor said.
The BPCA has started a fund looking to raise money to replace the lost bibles and other books in the church, and is encouraging Christians to make a difference in the lives of the Pakistani believers and send help if they can. Details for how to donate are available on BCPA's website here: