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Muslim mob attacks Pakistani Christians for a fourth time: CEN 9.21.09 September 22, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Persecution.
First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

A Muslim mob torched a church and the homes of a number of Christians in the Punjab last week, following claims that local Christians had committed blasphemy by desecrating the Koran.

The Sept 11 attack in the village of Sambrial, approximately 20 miles west of the city of Sialkot near Pakistan’s border with Kashmir, marks the fourth time in two months that Muslim mobs have attacked Christian neighbourhoods over alleged insults to the Koran, reports Aftab Mughal of Minorities Concern of Pakistan.

Muslim mob attacks Pakistani Christians for a fourth time

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani have condemned the attack and have asked Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to investigate the incident. Press reports from Pakistan report that President Zardari has called for calm, and promised the government would rebuild the church.

However, the Church of Pakistan’s Bishop of Sialkot and other Christian leaders have called upon the government to track down and arrest those responsible for the sectarian attacks.

Local press reports have presented conflicting accounts of the attack. Muslim leaders claim that a 15-year-old Muslim girl returning home from a Koran class at a mosque was accosted by five Christian boys. The boys allegedly stole her Koran and threw it into a ditch.

The police, however, say the girl dropped her Koran and was teased for her clumsiness by a Christian boy. The girl complained to her mother, whom police claim shouted at the boys for insulting the Koran. The cry was taken up by the local imam. Using a loudspeaker to address worshippers at Friday prayers, he called upon the village’s 100 Muslim families to exact revenge on the 30 Christian families. A mob gathered at the mosque and marched to the church, set it and two adjacent homes on fire.

Politicians representing Punjab’s Muslim political parties have demanded the police arrest the Christian boys for blasphemy, while the Pakistan Press Association (PPI), stated Bishop Samuel Pervaiz of Sialkot and Pastor Javaid Silvestre demanded the government intervene and protect the Christian minority and arrest the arsonists.

The National Commission for Justice and Peace reported that in the last fortnight two similar incidents have taken place in the Punjab. A three-day anti-Christian pogrom last month left 10 Christians dead and destroyed over 100 homes in the town of Gojra.

Fighting began on July 30 in the village of Koriyan after a Christian wedding. As confetti was tossed over the bride and groom as they left the church, local Islamists took offence, claiming the shredded paper had come from pages of the Koran. Rocks were thrown and a fight ensued, leading to the burning of several Christian homes.

The following day members of the banned extremist Muslim organization, Sipah-e-Sahaba, gathered near the railway station in Gojra and marched towards the Christian quarter of the town, and began throwing petrol bombs and shooting at the fleeing Christians. Ten Christians were killed either by the gunfire or were burned to death by the mob in their homes.

Bishop Pervaiz and other Christian leaders in Sialkot called on the government to amend the Blasphemy Laws, which they claim foster sectarian violence. On Sept 8 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams gave his endorsement to a petition to change the blasphemy legislation in Pakistan presented to the Pakistan High Commissioner in London.

The Bishop of Clogher, the Rt Rev Michael Jackson, chairman of the Network for Inter Faith Concerns (NIFCON) of the Anglican Consultative Council and Dr Musharraf Hussain, chairman of the Christian Muslim Forum, initiated the online petition in response to the Gojra attack.

The attacks on Christians “have frequently been associated with false accusations of blasphemy or desecration of the Koran which have been used to stir up mob violence. The law on blasphemy has provided a ready excuse for those who are motivated to use it for their own ends,” the petition said.

The petition called upon “the political and religious leadership of Pakistan to unite in condemning these attacks and murders in the strongest terms as an evil and a crime.”

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