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Court action promised in Pakistani blasphemy murders: Church of England Newspaper, November 28, 2014 November 28, 2014

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The Supreme Court of Pakistan has directed the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take immediate steps to investigate the 4 Nov 2014 murders of a Christian couple, Shahzad and Shama Masih, who were burnt alive by a Muslim mob for allegedly desecrating a page from the Koran. The Court further asked the government to enumerate the actions it had taken in response to a June 2014 Supreme Court order directing the state to establish a National Council for the Rights of Minorities and a task force to protect Christian places of worship. Church of Pakistan leaders have welcomed the court action, telling the Church of England NeShahzad_Masih_Shama_Bibiwspaper they hoped government pressure would end local persecution and discrimination of Christians. However, the Fides News Agency reports the family of the murdered Christian couple — whose death the Church of Pakistan reports, was orchestrated by an unscrupulous debt collector who used religious fervor to exact revenge — are under severe pressure from local Muslim leaders to abandon their campaign for justice. Fides reported: “ Even the Christians of surrounding villages are under threat. A Christian from the village of Bhail said that the tension in the area is strong and great hostility of Muslims towards Christians has developed after the raid and arrests carried out by the police in Muslim houses.”

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Pakistani priest assaulted: The Church of England Newspaper, June 13, 2014 June 26, 2014

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A legal aid society in Pakistan reports that on 3 June 2014 five suspected members of the Pakistani Taliban ransacked the home of the Rev. David Hanook, pastor of the Church of Pakistan congregation in a majority Christian village near Okara in the Diocese of Lahore, holding the priest and his family hostage for four hours. LEAD (Legal Evangelical Association Development) director Sardar Mushtaq Gill reports a watchman heard the cries of the family and roused the village to defend their pastor. Five men were taken into custody by police. However, relatives of the arrested men have threatened to burn down the village unless Mr. Hanook withdraws the charges. “My family is not safe now in that village and I have requested the Rt. Rev. Irfan Jamil Bishop of Lahore to transfer me some other Church congregation” Mr Hanook said. “We have seen death very near to us because the robbers opened firing at us but Our Lord Jesus saved us,” he said. The former pastor of the church, the Rev. Azmat Nadeem explained “this is a Christian village and other Muslim villages are very jealous and prejudice with this village, that’s why they often attack on Church and Priest and on other Christian villagers.”

Christians under siege in Pakistan, warns Canterbury: The Church of England Newspaper, June 6, 2014 June 17, 2014

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The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned that the Christians of Pakistan are under siege, and has urged the country’s government to protect the rights of its minorities. The comments came at the start of a week-long tour of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh – part of the archbishop’s initiative to meet with all of the primates of the Communion during his first 18 months in office. Speaking to reporters after church services in Lahore on 28 May 2014, Archbishop Welby said there was a “considerable sense of anxiety, of being under siege” felt by Christian in Pakistan. “There was a very clear sense that people were nervous about the misuse of the blasphemy law, as a sort of a tool of politics, a way of gaining attention, or as a mob thing,” he said. Archbishop Welby urged the Pakistani government to reform its blasphemy laws, saying they have been abused to persecute the poor, Christians and other religious minorities. “I pray for their blessing and for the government to be favourable to seeing that this is not a group that are seeking undue advantage but are only seeking to do good,” he said.

Death penalty for blasphemy for Lahore Christians: The Church of England Newspaper, April 11, 2014 May 10, 2014

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A Christian couple has been sentenced to death for blasphemy by a civil court in Lahore for sending blasphemous text messages. On 4 April 2014 a court in the Toba Tek Singh district ruled Shafaqat Emmanuel and his wife Shagufta Kausar were guilty of sending English-language text messages defaming Islam to two prominent Muslim activists. Lawyers for the accused noted the defendants were illiterate and further noted they did not speak English. The lawyers further noted that Mr. Emmanuel, who is disabled, and his wife, a waitress, were not the registered owners of the SIM card that was the source of the alleged message.  An appeal is planned. Their conviction follows the death sentence handed down last month to Christian sweeper Sawan Masih, who was also convicted of blasphemy. The NGO “World Vision in Progress” (WVIP), which has been supporting the couple, responded that “Kangaroo Justice is going on in this country called Pakistan.” They added that for the “last five months we [have been] yelling in front of the International community that all the victims of the Blasphemy Law will be awarded with the same punishment. … If a bold step [is not taken by] the Christian community soon, then it [will] become impossible for them to live in Pakistan.”

Pakistan terror trial in danger of collapse: The Church of England Newspaper, February 14, 2014 March 20, 2014

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The trial of two men accused of murdering a Pakistani government minister is in danger of collapsing, after key witnesses fled the country in fear for their lives.

The sole Christian cabinet minister in Prime Minister Yousaf Gillani’s government, Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated outside his home in Islamabad in March 2011. Two gunmen sprayed the minister’s car with bullets and dropped pamphlets next to his body, denouncing him as a Christian infidel.

Islamabad police arrested Hammad Adil and Umer Abdullah, in September 2012 and charged them with the murder. The two men confessed to the police their guilt in the attack and are being tried by an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi

However, the complainant in the case, Shahbaz Bhatti’s brother Paul Bhatti, chairman of the All Pakistan Minority Alliance, has fled to Italy for safety.

“Punjabi Taliban dropped pamphlets at my office in Lahore and warned me of dire consequences for pursuing the murder case of my brother,” he told a Pakistani cable television channel on 8 Feb 2014. But added that: “I will not give up this case despite the threats.”

Mr. Bhatti said he had asked repeatedly for protection from the Interior Ministry and police, but they ignored his requests. His attorney Rana Abdul Hameed told Newsweek International that he too had been threatened for mounting the private prosecution against the killers.

Mr. Hameed also represented Rimsha Masih, the Pakistani Christian girl who had been arrested in 2012 for allegedly desecrating pages of the Koran – but was later found not guilty after police discovered an extremist mullah had fabricated the case — said: “Pamphlets are dropped in my office warning me to disassociate myself from the case.”

“They say you freed Rimsha, now you are trying to convict our comrades, you should be taught a lesson.”

He added: “Paul Bhatti is abroad. He cannot come to Pakistan. Our witness has been threatened. We are receiving constant threats. What can you then expect from the case? It won’t go anywhere.”

Taliban church attack leaves 100 dead: The Church of England Newspaper, September 27, 2013 p 6. October 15, 2013

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The Church of Pakistan has called for three days of mourning and solidarity in the wake of a suicide bombing at All Saints’ Church, Kohati Gate in Peshawar.

As approximately 600 worshippers filed out of the church in Peshawar’s old city following the principle morning service two men wearing explosive vests holding ball bearings and other pieces of shrapnel detonated their charges. The police reported at least 78 people, including 37 children, were killed. Church of Pakistan leaders estimate the death toll to be at least 150 with hundreds more wounded.

The explosion at All Saints Church, built in 1883 by the CMS and unique among Peshawar’s churches as it was designed to resemble a mosque, comes a year and a day after a mob set fire to a church in the nearby town of Mardan in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they will continue to attack non-Sunni Muslims until the coalition forces end their drone attacks against terrorists in Waziristan.

In a letter to students and faculty, the Dean of Edwardes College in Peshawar, the Rev. Dr. Titus Pressler said the “scale of the atrocity is terrible.  News is still coming in, but it is said that about 150 people or more were killed and 200 or more were injured.  The news has gone around the world.”

“Information is emerging,” he wrote, “but a number of our current students were killed as were a number of Edwardes College alumni.  The same is true of Edwardes College School and, of course, other church institutions throughout the city.”

The attack on Peshawar’s Christians follows upon attacks by the Taliban against Shia Muslims in Quetta this past February which killed 200, and on-going attacks against members of the Ahmadiyya community.

Dr. Pressler reported that members of the Muslim community were quick to reach out to Christians with offers of prayer and support. “Such ecumenical spirit is crucial in any place and time, but especially so in Peshawar and in Pakistan today,” he wrote. “So I thank God for such compassion and generosity of spirit between people of different religions.”

In a letter to the Church of Pakistan, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said he was “appalled” by the news.

“My heart goes out to all those bereaved and injured by this terrible attack. I pray for the peace of Pakistan and the protection of Christ’s people. With the people of Peshawar I join in calling for the Pakistan Government and all people of good will to ensure that communities may go about their daily lives in safety, and that the perpetrators are brought to justice.”

In a Twitter message released on 22 September 2013 the archbishop said: “Peshawar bomb reveals depths of human evil, yet those suffering speak of forgiveness as well as justice. That is the love of Jesus shown.”

Anglican Unscripted Episode 82: September 28, 2013 September 29, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Kenya, Anglican Church of North America, Anglican.TV, Church of England, Church of Pakistan, GAFCON, Property Litigation, The Episcopal Church.
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Scores dead in Taliban church attack: Anglican Ink, September 23, 2013 September 23, 2013

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In near simultaneous explosions, two suicide bombers exploded shrapnel laden vests outside All Saints’ Church in the old city of Peshawar on Sunday killing scores of Pakistani Christians in the Taliban’s latest attack on religious minorities in Pakistan.

Police reported at least 78 people, including 37 children killed in the blast. Church of Pakistan leaders tell Anglican Ink they estimate the death toll to be at least 150, with hundreds more wounded.

The attack came following the main service at All Saints Kohati Gate, a colonial church built in 1883 by the CMS along the design of a mosque to offer a familiar atmosphere to converts to Christianity. As the 600 worshippers filed out the front of the church to waiting buffet tables offering coffee and a light lunch, two men walked past a police guard into the compound and detonated their vests, sending ball bearings, nails and other pieces of shrapnel through the crowd.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Pakistani Anglican bishop warns against foreign intervention in Syria: Anglican Ink, Sept 7, 2013 September 7, 2013

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Dr Alexander John Malik

The former Bishop in Lahore, the Rt. Rev. Alexander Malik has urged the United States, France and Britain not to use its military might to strike Syria.

Speaking to journalists on 7 September 2013, Dr. Malik said a Western attack on the Assad regime in retaliation for its alleged use of chemical weapons against the rebels would make a terrible situation worse.

Read it all at Anglican Ink.

Pakistani Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy freed: The Church of England Newspaper, April 14, 2013 p 7. April 16, 2013

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Seven years after being sentenced to death for blasphemy a Pakistani Christian has been set free.

On 3 April 2013 Lahore High Court justices Khaja Amtiaz Ahmed and Khalid Mehmood Khan overturned the conviction of Younis Masih and ordered his immediate release from prison.

On 10 September 2005 Masih was arrested after he had asked a party of Muslim men the night before if they would lower the volume of their singing. The men responded by attacking Masih and beat him unconscious. Islamic leaders then incited a mob to burn Christians’ homes, saying Masih had committed blasphemy. More than 100 Christian families were forced to flee.

His lawyers alleged that to placate the mob the police arrested Masih. A Lahore Court sentenced him to death on 30 May 2007. In overturning his conviction the appeals court held there was no proof of blasphemy.

In a statement released last week Release International, which had been working with lawyers from the Legal Aid for Destitute and Settlement society in Pakistan, welcomed the news. 

Release chief executive Paul Robinson said: “We are celebrating with Younis, his family and our partners who have supported them for all these years. We hope this sets a precedent for other victims of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws who should now be released.”

Release commended the “bravery of High Court judges” who released Masih, “despite intense pressure from Muslim hardliners who filled earlier court hearings, apparently trying to intimidate the judges.”

Release partners were now making arrangements for the “safe transfer of Younis from jail to an unspecified location,” it reported.

Appeal from Pakistan to rebuild St Paul’s Mardan: The Church of England Newspaper, October 14, 2012 p 6. October 19, 2012

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Bishop Peter Majeed has issued an appeal for assistance to rebuild St Paul’s Church in Mardan.

The “church, bishop’s house, diocesan center, priest’s houses, principal’s house, library and school” were damaged in the attack on 21 Sept 2012, the Lutheran bishop reported.

“This was the third time in two years that the church and my house have been attacked.  First two times the mob were not able to damage the above mentioned places, but this time the mob comprised thousands of people who were protesting against the blasphemous movie and the damage they managed to do was much more severe. The mob managed to get into the church compound, after which they first burnt down the church building, and then stole the cash and other expensive items. A car, three motor bikes and all belongings were stolen from the priest houses. We thank God that our families managed to escape safely,” Bishop  Majeed wrote.

He added the mob also sought to kill the 20 year old son of the Rev. Chan Masih and “tried to throw him in the burning church, but he was saved with the help of some people and police.”

Built in 1937 by Norwegian and Danish Lutheran missionaries, the interior of the church was constructed of Burmese teak. Now “only the ashes are left behind” while the walls are “in danger of collapsing any time.”

The chief minister of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, said on 25 September 2012 his government would contribute Rs30 million for the church’s reconstruction.  While the mob was justified in their anger at the YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims”, they were wrong to have burnt a church in response.

“Muslims had the every right to stage peaceful protest on [the festival of] Yum-i-Ishq-i-Rasool. However, unfortunately some miscreants damaged valuable property and destroyed the church. These elements have earned the country and Islam a bad name,” he said.

Bishop Majeed appealed to “all Christians in the world to stand with us in prayers and help us to rebuild the house of God and the houses of His servants, who have been rendered homeless and are living with their friends and relatives.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Bishop of Lahore installed: The Church of England Newspaper, October 6, 2012 p 6. October 11, 2012

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The Diocese of Lahore installed the Rt. Rev. Irfan Jamil as its ninth bishop last week at a service held at the Cathedral Church of the Resurrection in Lahore. The Deputy Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop Humphrey Peters of Peshawar presided at the 28 Sept 2012 ceremony that welcomed Bishop Jamil and marked the retirement of Bishop Alexander Malik, who served as Bishop of Lahore for 32 years.

On Feb 5, 2011 Bishop Jamil was consecrated as coadjutor to Bishop Malik.  Prior to his election he served as vicar of St. Thomas Church, Islamabad and Adviser to the Bishop of Lahore for Evangelism.  He also served for 17 years as general secretary of the Pakistan Fellowship of Evangelical Students.  Educated in Pakistan, Bishop Jamil trained for the ministry at the London Bible College and Trinity Theological College, Singapore.

Bishop Jamil told the congregation: “The word responsibility comes from ability and response. I know there may be great challenges for me. But I promise to work as the Bishop of Lahore under fear of God and to the best of my abilities with commitment, dedication and devotion.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Pakistan President denounces church burning; The Church of England Newspaper, September 30, 2012, p 6. October 5, 2012

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St Paul’s Mardan after the 21 Sept 2012 attack

The President of Pakistan has condemned last week’s attack on a church in Mardan in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

A mob set fire to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and looted St Paul’s High School in response to Western acts of “blasphemy” against Muhammad made in the “Innocence of Muslims” YouTube video.

On 23 September 2012 President Asif Ali Zardari said “vandalizing revered places of worship and inflicting damage in retaliation amounted to playing into the hands of perpetrators of the crime who produced the anti-Islam film.”

On 21 Sept a several thousand strong mob stormed the church compound after Friday prayers on Ishq-e-Rasool day. The Diocese of Peshawar reported the church was set alight and the homes of its two priests and the school’s headmaster were destroyed. The school, which serves the Christian and Muslim community, was ransacked and newly installed computers taken away by the mob.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has ordered inquiry into the attack and has called for patience on the part of the Christian community, Express News reported.

“The damage has been very severe, and we will need to rebuild. We are asking for people around the world to keep us in your prayers,” said Bishop Humphrey Peters of Peshawar.

The Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop Samuel Azariah released a statement condemning the attack, saying the church burnings would damage “relations between the communities in Pakistan and around the world.

“The government and faith leaders in Pakistan have a role to play in education people that they have the right to protest, but to damage property and terrify people in this way is completely wrong. The government and faith leaders should provide the lead in preventing attacks,” Bishop Azariah said.

On 12 Sept 2012 a remote-controlled explosive device placed against the wall of St Paul’s detonated, causing one wall of the church to collapse.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

No proof of blasphemy in the Rimsha Masih case: The Church of England Newspaper, September 30, 2012 p 5. October 5, 2012

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A police investigator has testified that there is no evidence that Rimsha Masih, the 11-year old Christian girl with Downs Syndrome, violated Pakistan’s blasphemy code.

On 16 August Rimsha was taken into custody after she was accused of burning pages of the Koran.  The leader of mosque in Mehrabadi, a mixed Muslim-Christian neighborhood outside Islamabad, filed a complaint with the police alleging the young girl had committed blasphemy – a crime punishable by death under the Pakistani penal code.

An anti-Christian pogrom ensued in Mehrabadi and the Pakistani press reported that approximately 1000 Christian families fled the neighborhood in fear for their lives. Police held Rimsha and her mother in custody in Rawalpindi from 16 Aug to 7 Sept for their own protection after the riots, interior minister Rehman Malik told the senate last week, and released them after a Christian NGO made bail for the girl.

In the 22 Sept court hearing in Islamabad, police official Munir Hussain Jaffri said there was no evidence that Rimsha had burned a copy of a Koran. He also testified that the Muslim cleric who had brought the charges against the girl had been accused by three witnesses of fabricating the evidence against Rimsha.

However, Rao Abdul Raheem, the lawyer representing Muslim cleric Khalid Jadoon Chisthi who is now facing charges of perverting the course of justice warned the court that his client enjoyed wide popular support.  Mr. Raheem told the court that just as the accused killer of Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer, Mumtaz Qadris, was a hero to some for his actions – so too was his client.

The judge hearing the case ordered an adjournment until 24 Sept.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Pakistan church torched by Muslim mob: Anglican Ink, September 21, 2012 September 22, 2012

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St Paul’s Mardan

A Muslim mob has set fire to a church and looted its school in response to Western acts of “blasphemy” against Muhammad.  Reports from Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province near the border with Afghanistan remain unclear on the size and motivation of the mob, however, the Church of Pakistan and the security services police have confirmed the assault and looting of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and St Paul’s High School in Mardan.

On 21 Sept 2012 the mob, a several thousand strong mob stormed the compound after Friday prayers.  The Diocese of Peshawar reports the church was set alight and the homes of its two priests and the school’s headmaster were destroyed.  The school, which serves the Christian and Muslim community, was ransacked and newly installed computers taken away by the mob.

“The damage has been very severe, and we will need to rebuild. We are asking for people around the world to keep us in your prayers,” said Bishop Humphrey Peters of Peshawar.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Rimsha bailed on blasphemy charges: The Church of England Newspaper, September 16, 2012 p 5. September 20, 2012

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Rimsha Masih, the mentally disabled Christian girl jailed for blasphemy in Islamabad has been released from prison on bail.

She was freed on 7 September 2012 followed a statement made by Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik to the senate that his investigation revealed the girl had not left her home on the day she was alleged to have burned pages from a Koran.  He further stated that a medical examination found the girl to have a mental age of 7, though she was approximately 14 years of age.

The judge hearing the case released Rimsha on bail after her attorneys argued that the arrest of her accuser, a Muslim cleric, on charges of fabricating the evidence against her raised reasonable doubts about her guilt.

On 16 August Rimsha was taken into custody after she was accused of burning pages of the Koran.  The leader of mosque in Mehrabadi, a mixed Muslim-Christian neighborhood outside Islamabad, filed a complaint with the police alleging the young girl had committed blasphemy – a crime punishable by death under the Pakistani penal code.

An anti-Christian pogrom ensued in Mehrabadi and the Pakistani press reported that approximately 1000 Christian families fled the neighborhood in fear for their lives.  Rimsha and her mother were had been kept in custody since 16 Aug for their own protection, the interior minister told the senate.

The arrest of Rimsha Masih has focused international attention upon Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which critics charge is used to intimidate Christians for personal and business reasons.  It has also sparked a backlash within the majority Muslim community.  A prominent conservative cleric, Tahir Ashrafi, defended Rimsha against the charge of blasphemy, describing her to reporters as the “daughter of the nation.”

After a minority rights group gave a £6500 bond to the court, Rimsha was released from custody. She is being kept in seclusion, a spokesman for the minorities group said, pending the outcome of her case.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Mullah accused of fabricating evidence in Pakistan child blasphemy case: The Church of England Newspaper, September 9, 2012 p 7 September 12, 2012

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One of the accusers of the 11-year old Christian girl imprisoned in Pakistan and awaiting trial on for blasphemy has been arrested by Islamabad police for fabricating evidence and filing false charges.

On 31 August 2012, a witness came forward to inform the police that a local mullah, Khalid Jadoon Chisthi, had concocted the accusations against Rimsha Masih, and had conspired to foment anti-Christian hatred.

The Express Tribune reported that Hafiz Zubair informed police that he had witnessed Mr. Chishti fabricate the evidence and had heard him describe his plan to frame the Christian girl.  “We tried to stop him but he said this would strengthen the blasphemy case against Rimsha,” said Zubair in his statement to the police.

A police spokesman told the Express Tribune Chishti “put pages into the ashes, showed them to the people of the area, gathered them to attack the girl’s house and detained her before taking her to the police station. He made the boy Hammad become a complainant in the case and urged the police to press blasphemy charges against the 11-year-old girl,” said the police officer.

Rimsha, whose baptismal certificate indicates she is 11 years of age, although a police medical examination places her age at 13, has Downs Syndrome and is illiterate.  She was arrested on 16 August after she was accused by Chishti and others of burning a Koran.  The girl and her mother remain in protective police custody and a hearing is scheduled on her case this week.

The outcry over the arrest of Rimsha led to an anti-Christian pogrom, allegedly fomented by Chishti, that forced 900 families from their homes – emptying the Islamabad neighborhood of Christians who feared for their lives.

If convicted of falsifying evidence in a capital case, Chishti could face life imprisonment.  If charged with blasphemy for burning the pages containing Koranic verses, he could be executed.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

11 year old girl with Downs Syndrome jailed for Blasphemy: The Church of England Newspaper, August 26, 2012 p 6. August 28, 2012

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The Government of Pakistan has confirmed that an 11 year old Christian girl with Downs Syndrome has been arrested for blasphemy and is being held by police for questioning – and for protection from a mob that is seeking her death.

A spokesperson for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, said the president has taken “serious note” of the arrest of Rimsha Masih and has directed the Interior Ministry to look into the matter.

The sequence of events that led to the arrest of Rimsha (also spelled Rifta) Masih remains unclear. However the Express Tribune reported that officials at the Ramna Police Station outside Islamabad had confirmed the girl had been accused of burning a Muslim text – variously described as 10 pages from the Koran or portions of the Noorani Qaida – a children’s Koran reader. The girl has since been taken into custody, the police have confirmed.

The police said after the complaint was filed on 16 August the girl and her mother were assaulted by a mob.  The website “Christians in Pakistan” which first reported the arrest, stated the girl who lived in the Mehrabadi neighborhood of the capital had Downs Syndrome – a fact subsequently confirmed by the police after a medical examination.

Following her arrest, local mullah’s called for all Christians to leave the village.  The Pakistan Christian Post reports that approximately 1000 Christian families have fled the Islamabad slum out of fear of reprisals from Muslim extremists.

A police investigation into the incident is underway, however, on local official said that if the girl had not been taken into custody, she might have been harmed by the mob.  Under Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws, those found guilty of insulting Mohammad or the Koran can be sentenced to death.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Ramadan poisoning victims told to keep silent: The Church of England Newspaper, August 19, 2012 p 6. August 21, 2012

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Nine Christian nurses hospitalized last month after allegedly being poisoned for violating the Ramadan fast in Karachi, have been warned that if they speak out they will be punished.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Capuchin Father Abid Habib, president of the Major Superiors Leadership Conference of the Roman Catholic Church in Pakistan stated the nurses were “warned that giving out information could result in hospital authorities slapping a court case on them, accusing them of taking drugs before drinking the tea.”

“We are still convinced that they were victims of religious intolerance,” Fr. Habib said.  Police have launched an investigation into the 29 July poisonings of the student nurses at Karachi’s Civil Hospital.  Supporters of the nurses claim that their decision not to participate in the dawn to dusk Ramadan fast angered Islamist extremists, who retaliated by poisoning their tea.

When the nurses returned to their hostel after their shift and made tea, they became ill and had to be hospitalized.

Nasreem Gill, the hospital’s chief nursing superintendent, told local newspapers that tests of the tea and blood samples from the nurses were being examined at the hospital’s laboratory and results were expected shortly.

The Catholic UCA news agency noted that Christian activists in Pakistan have claimed that the country’s Ramadan law, which bans eating, drinking or smoking in public places during the fasting hours, has been used to persecute Christians.  Violations of the Ramadan law are subject to a three month prison sentence or fine.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Nurses ‘poisoned’ for breaking Ramadan fast claim: The Church of England Newspaper, August 12, 2012 p 6 August 14, 2012

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Christian leaders in Pakistan have called for a government probe after nine nurses were allegedly poisoned for breaking the Ramadan fast by drinking tea.

On 30 July, nine Christian nursing students at the Karachi Civil Hospital were taken ill after drinking tea during a work break. At least three of the nurses were in intensive care following the poisoning but all are expected to recover.

Police have launched an investigation into the incident, which Christian leaders believe was staged by Muslim extremists who were angry the nurses were not observing the dusk-to-dawn Ramadan fast. Catholic Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi told the charity Aid to the Church in Need that he had asked that the incident be investigated by the Pakistan Catholic advocacy organisation the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP).

“It is still unclear what the motive was behind this incident of poisoning,” the Archbishop said. “Was it a religious motive, was it a criminal motive or was it purely accidental?”

According to a report printed in the Express Tribune, one of the nurses brewed the tea in the nurses’ hostel before the start of the evening shift at 10:00 pm. After drinking the tea they all became ill and had to be taken to the hospital’s emergency department.

Mr Saleem Khokhar, a member of parliament, said he did not believe this was a religiously motivated crime as the poisoned tea was consumed after dusk, when the Ramadan fast was over, while the hospital’s medical superintendent, Prof Saeed Quraishy said he did not believe this was a criminal act as the Christian nurses had made the tea themselves.

However, Christian leaders remain convinced this was a religious attack. Speaking at the Karachi Press Club, William Sadiq – a Christian NGO worker – said it was likely the tea had been poisoned earlier in the day. Tensions over Christians not observing the Ramadan fast arose during the day.

“Whatever the truth, it is definitely a cause for concern,” the Archbishop said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Pak govt underfire for ordering church demolition: The Church of England Newspaper, January 20, 2012 p 6. January 24, 2012

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Diocesan leaders standing amidst the ruins of the demolished church

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Christian leaders have denounced the seizure and demolition by the Punjab government of a two acre site in Lahore that housed a church, a women’s shelter, and seven homes.

The Punjab government has defended its destruction of the properties saying it acquired the land after one of the residents at the shelter announced her conversion to Islam.

On 10 January 2012 residents living in the church properties on Allama Iqbal Road in Lahore’s Garhi Sahu district were awakened at 6:30 in the morning and told to leave their homes immediately. Bulldozers then leveled the church and all other buildings on the site.

The Catholic Bishop of Lahore Sebastian Shaw told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that what the “state government of Punjab has done is a very, very brutal act of injustice.”

“How can they do such a thing, just to come in, wreck a charitable institution and ruin the lives of people living there? They do not listen to anybody.”

The Church of Pakistan’s Bishop of Lahore, Dr. Alexander Malik condemned the destruction of the church buildings. He also called for the state to register a case of Blasphemy against the local government officials who ordered the demolition as Bibles, crosses and other church ornaments were destroyed.

This incident was a manifestation of the state’s “unaccounted power” and demonstrated the “grave injustice and cruelty [directed] towards non-Muslims/religious minorities in Pakistan,” Bishop Malik said.

Bishop Shaw added that this was a “criminal act of land-grabbing by the government functionaries” as the Catholic Church held title deeds to the property showing it acquired the property in 1887. The controversy over the ownership of the land began several years ago, the Lahore press reported, when one of the residents of the shelter announced her conversion to Islam and began to harass the nuns who ran the refuge. She refused to leave the shelter and questioned the ownership of the two rooms she occupied.

The state intervened in the dispute, but was unable to resolve the disagreement. In 2007 local government officials announced they were confiscating the land, and claimed to have notified the church of this decision. A government spokesman said that a “land-mafia” group had taken adverse possession of the property, and had used armed gunmen to drive away local officials when they had attempted to gain access to the property.

However, local residents had disputed this claim, according to the Express Tribune, and Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the National Commission on Justice and Peace, said that a court had issued a restraining order forbidding destruction of the buildings.

On 16 January 2012 Justice Mansoor Ali Shah of the Lahore High Court ordered the local government authority to respond to the violation of the court order staying demolition.

Text message ban for Pakistan questioned: The Church of England Newspaper, December 2, 2011, p 6. December 7, 2011

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has retreated from its proposal to ban obscene words and phrases offensive to Islam from text messages. A PTA spokesman told Agence France-Presse that it would review its proposed list of 1600 forbidden words that include “Jesus Christ” before issuing the ban.

Last week the PTA informed SMS providers in Pakistan that they would be required to block text messages that contained words or phrases that appeared on the forbidden list of 1100 English and 500 Urdu words.  While the overwhelming majority of words were obscene or scatological, the list also included religion related phrases such as “Jesus Christ” and “Satan” as well as words that do not appear to have an immediate offensive meaning such as “athlete’s foot.”

Church leaders in Pakistan cried foul upon hearing of the proposed ban.  The Church of Pakistan’s Bishop of Lahore, the Rt. Rev. Alexander Malik released a statement on 23 Nov saying that “Jesus” was a sacred word and its inclusion in a ban on obscene words was “tantamount to blasphemy.”

The secretary of the Roman Catholic Commission for Social Communications, Fr. Nadeem John Shakir told the Fides News Agency the Catholic Church “will put pressure on the government to eliminate the name of Christ from the prohibited list.”

“We understand the desire to protect the minds of young people but why include the name of Christ? What is obscene? Banning it is a violation of our right to evangelize and hurts the feelings of Christians,” Fr Shakir said on 21 Nov.

“If the ban is confirmed, it would be a black page for the country, a further act of discrimination against Christians and an open violation of Pakistan’s constitution,” he said.

The PTA has the authority to restrict speech under Article 19 of the Pakistani constitution.  While the law permits free speech, it is also “subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by the law, in the interest of the glory of Islam.”

Questions as to the feasibility of the ban are misplaced, internet consultant Kevin Kallsen told The Church of England Newspaper.  “For a cellular operator, even in a developing country, filtering SMS messages is not a problem.  It does not slow delivery or effect normal network performance.”

“ However, If the operator had to notify you the message you sent was filtered; or the receiver that an incoming message was blocked that would slow down the system,” said Mr. Kallsen, the founder of Anglican TV.

“The issue in Pakistan is with the amount of words to be filtered. As comedian George Carlin said, there are only 11 ‘dirty’ words banned from commercial broadcasting in the U.S.  Taking 1600 words out of any language is beyond reason,” he argued.

Donors ignoring Pakistan flood appeals, aid agencies report: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 30, 2011 p 5. October 5, 2011

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Donor fatigue has infected the international aid community, NGOs involved in Pakistani relief efforts report, with only a trickle of aid reaching the flood-ravaged country.

On 26 September, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported the flooding had caused a “major humanitarian emergency, but the situation has not received sufficient international attention. At least 5.4 million people need help, and the number is growing. In some areas of Sindh, humanitarian needs are approaching the levels of 2010. This crisis requires an urgent response.”

In 2010, 18 million people in Pakistan were affected by the “largest floods in living memory, and they have not recovered,” the UN said. “Levels of food insecurity and malnutrition were already at emergency levels before this year’s rains.”

However, the international community has been slow to respond to requests for assistance with only eight per cent of the $357 million requested by the UN received within the first 10 days of the appeal. Five days after the 2010 Pakistan flood appeal was launched, $148 million, or 32 per cent of the total requested, had been raised.

“This is a cruel repeat of last year. Again funding is too little and far too slow. Donors must recognise the gravity of the situation,” said Neva Khan, Country Director of Oxfam in Pakistan.

Over 5.4 million people in Sindh have been affected by this year’s monsoon rains. Approximately 6.8 million acres of land have been damaged by the floods that have destroyed 73 per cent of standing crops, 36 per cent of livestock and 67 per cent of food stocks in the 13 worst affected districts of Sindh. In a province where already 72 per cent of the population is acutely short of food, Oxfam reports “this loss of crops means hundreds of thousands more people don’t have enough to eat.”

“Millions of innocent people, the majority of which are women and children, are in desperate need of the basics: food, water, sanitation, healthcare and shelter. If assistance does not come quickly, then a second emergency of rising malnutrition and rising water-borne diseases risks making a public health disaster a reality. There is no time to waste. We must all act now,” she said.

David Wright, Country Director for Save the Children Pakistan reported that at least four million children were at risk of hunger and disease from the flooding. “These people are now living on the edge and they need help fast. Aid agencies will not be able to meet the needs of millions of families unless countries start to take notice and bridge the funding gap,” he warned.

The Diocese of Hyderabad has also launched an appeal for funds, and hopes to raise $50,000 to support 100 families displaced by the flooding. But time is running out.

“People are living in desperate conditions. Each passing day puts more people at risk of deadly diseases, forces more people into hunger and destroys more futures. We are in a battle against time. Donors, the UN, aid agencies and the government, need to step up their response immediately. People need help now,” said Oxfam’s Neva Khan.

Bishop of Lahore: ‘Pakistan falling short of Jinnah’s vision’: The Church of England Newspaper, Aug 19, 2011 p 6. August 19, 2011

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Muhammad Ali Jinnah

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Pakistan has failed to live up to the ideals of its founding president, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Bishop of Lahore said last week in a statement marking the country’s Minorities Day.

On Aug 10 Bishop Alexander Malik released a statement saying it was wrong to equate the Christians of Pakistan with Europeans or Americans, or to claim Christians were ‘fifth columnists’ of the West.

He also reminded his compatriots of the five ideals that lay behind the founding of Pakistan as expressed by Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 1947 had yet to be fulfilled.  In a speech delivered on Aug 11, 1947 to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan following his election as the first president, Muhammad Ali Jinnah said “the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State.”

The second responsibility of government was to combat “bribery and corruption. That really is a poison. We must put that down with an iron hand,” President Jinnah said.

“Black-marketing is another curse,” the president said, as is this “great evil, the evil of nepotism and jobbery.”

The fifth principal, the bishop said was of freedom of religion.  “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

These ideals had yet to be fulfilled in Pakistan, Bishop Malik said.  The state should respect the grievances and concerns of religious minorities and should combat the prejudices of the Muslim majority against the Christian minority.

“All minorities deserve fair representation in public policies and decision making bodies both levels at federal and provincial,” the bishop said, according to an account printed in the Nation newspaper.

Govt report blames Al Qaeda for Bhatti murder: The Church of England Newspaper, July 8, 2011 p 7. July 10, 2011

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Shahbaz Bhatti

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Al-Qaeda terrorists murdered the Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani Ministry of the Interior has concluded.

Theories the sole Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet was murdered in a personal dispute unrelated to his faith have been dismissed by the government, the dead man’s brother Paul Bhatti reports.

The investigation is now focused on an al-Qaeda cell in Pakistan known as “Brigade 313” led by Taliban leader Ilyas Kashmiri.

On 2 March, Mr Bhatti, a 42-year-old Roman Catholic, was leaving his home when a gunman sprayed his car with 20 bullets. He died while being transported to the Shifa Hospital in Islamabad. The government minister was usually accompanied by security guards, but he had told them that day not to accompany him.

Last year Mr Bhatti told a public meeting “when I’m leading this campaign against the Sharia laws and for the abolishment of the blasphemy law and speaking for the oppressed and for the persecuted Christians and other minorities, these Taliban threaten me.

“I’m ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights,” said Mr Bhatti, the chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance. “I will prefer to die for my principles and for the justice of my community rather to compromise.”

Speaking to the Fides news service Paul Bhatti said the investigations into his brother’s murder were “finally on the right track: it is the work carried out by the Taliban and Islamic fanatics. Now we are waiting for the capture of the perpetrators of the crime, who are in Dubai.”

Minister of Interior Rehman Malik has issued a warrant for the killers and is seeking the assistance of the Dubai government to round up the accused.

The Commission of Inquiry set up by the Interior Ministry concluded that Brigade 313 contracted the killing out to a Taliban leader in the Punjab, who used members of the ‘Tehrik-e-Islami’ and a faction of the ‘Ghazi Force in Islamabad’ to kill the minorities minister, Mr Bhatti said.

“After the sidetracking of the inquiry and attempts of reducing the charge of murder due to personal enmity, slinging mud at my brother, the truth is emerging: we were convinced that he was killed for his commitment to human rights, the rights of Christians, for the brave denunciation against the blasphemy law,” he said.

“Now the investigation proves us right. We are hoping for a rapid conclusion, with the capture of the perpetrators of the crime. It would be a good sign for the health of the state of law in Pakistan,” Mr Bhatti said.

Islamists call off Bible ban threat: The Church of England Newspaper, June 24, 2011 p 8. June 25, 2011

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Sami ul-Haq

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Christian rights groups have praised the decision by an Islamic political party to back down from its threat to petition the Pakistan Supreme Court to ban the Bible under the provisions of the country’s blasphemy laws.

On 13 June, Sami ul-Haq, leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Assembly of Islamic Clergy, or JUI-S), told reporters he had censured a lieutenant for demanding the ban.

In a 30 May press conference in Lahore, a top leader of the JUI-S, Abdul Rauf Farooqui, told a press conference that lawyers for his party were preparing a petition asking the Supreme Court to ban the Bible as passages from Genesis, Exodus, I Kings, 2 Samuel, and the Gospel of Matthew were “immoral” and “pornographic.”

Passages from the Old Testament, including Genesis 19:33-36’s portrayal of the drunkenness of Lot and his daughters; the story of David and Bathsheba from 2 Samuel, and Jesus’ rebuke of Peter from Matthew 26 “strongly offend Muslims, who hold all prophets and holy books in high esteem as part of religious belief and never even think of committing any blasphemy against them,” Mr Farooqui said.

The Church of Pakistan’s Bishop of Lahore, the Rt Rev Alexander Malik denounced Farooqui’s petition. Banning the Bible would violate the religious freedoms guaranteed by Pakistan’s constitution, the Bishop said, and would serve only to inflame sectarian tensions.

However, Sami ul-Haq last week told reporters he had reprimanded Farooqui for his comments. “We believe in religious solidarity; I enquired with the person who demanded banning the Holy Bible. All Muslims are obliged to respect Divine books but this also goes for the followers of other religions”, he said.

Called the “Father of the Taliban” by the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington DC think tank, ul-Haq is the director and chancellor of Pakistan’s Darul uloom Haqqania madrassa. The Islamist seminary educated many of the top Taliban leaders, including its fugitive chief, Mullah Omar and is widely believed to have served as the “launching pad for the Taliban movement in the early 1990s” the Jamestown Foundation reports.

Release International, which had led protests against the Bible ban in the West, welcomed the news. But its chairman, Andy Dipper said the “call to ban the Bible in the first place reveals just how precarious the situation has become for Pakistan’s Christian minority.”

“Intolerance towards non-Muslims appears to be intensifying – reflected in the assassinations of senior figures calling for the reform of the blasphemy laws. Moderate Muslims often say there must be no coercion in religion. Pakistan’s Islamic extremists must take that message to heart,” Mr Dipper said.

“Intolerance towards non-Muslims appears to be intensifying – reflected in the assassinations of senior figures calling for the reform of the blasphemy laws. Moderate Muslims often say there must be no coercion in religion. Pakistan’s Islamic extremists must take that message to heart,” Mr. Dipper said.

Islamists call for Bible ban in Pakistan: The Church of England Newspaper, June 10, 2011 p 6. June 14, 2011

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Bishop Alexander Malik of Lahore

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

An Islamist political party has asked Pakistan’s Supreme Court to ban the Bible under the provisions of that country’s Blasphemy Laws, arguing the Christian Scriptures defame the moral reputation of the Patriarchs and Jesus.

In a May 30 press conference in Lahore, a leader of the Sami ul Haq faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Assembly of Islamic Clergy, or JUI-S) Maulana Abdul Rauf Farooqi, said certain passages from Genesis, Exodus, I Kings, 2 Samuel, and the Gospel of Matthew were “immoral” and “pornographic.”

These passages “strongly offend Muslims, who hold all prophets and holy books in high esteem as part of religious belief and never even think of committing any blasphemy against them,” Mr. Farooqui said.

The Islamist leader’s objections focused on Genesis 19:33-36, the drunkenness of Lot and his daughters; Genesis 29:23 ff, Laban’s tricking Jacob by exchanging Leah for Rachel on the night of their wedding; Genesis 38:18, Judah and Tamar; Exodus 32:2-6, Aaron’s fashioning of the golden calf at Sinai; I Kings 13:2-29, Jeroboam and the prophets; 2 Samuel 11:2–27, David and Bathsheba; 2 Samuel 13:1–22 the rape of Tamar by Amnon; Matthew 16:23, Jesus’ rebuke of Peter … “Get thee behind me Satan”; and Matthew 26:14–47, the Last Supper.

A member of Pakistan’s senate, Farooqi has been tied to the Taliban by the Pakistani press and is also the chancellor of the Darul Uloom Haqqania, a Deobandi Islamic seminary that has trained a number of Taliban leaders.

The JUI-S’s protestations are not solely prurient, but are tied to the recent flap over the burning of the Koran by Florida pastor Terry Jones.  “Our lawyers are preparing to ask the court to ban the book,” Farooqui said, adding the JUI-S “will not follow in the footsteps of Terry Jones and burn the holy book.”

Church leaders in Pakistan tell The Church of England Newspaper they do not expect the courts to affirm the petition, but worry this latest anti-Christian move is the start of a new round of persecution by fanatics.

The Church of Pakistan’s Bishop of Lahore, the Rt. Rev. Alexander Malik denounced Faqooqui’s petition.  Banning the Bible would violate the religious freedoms guaranteed by Pakistan’s constitution, the bishop said, and would serve only to inflame sectarian tensions.

Christian human rights activist, Bruce Bhatti, told the Minorities Concern of Pakistan, “It is a dangerous move, and this demand is based on hate. It is totally against the human values and will further promote religious intolerance in the country where Christians have been persecuted because of their faith.”

Blasphemy arrest in Pakistan: The Church of England Newspaper, April 15, 2011 p 8. April 21, 2011

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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Diocese of Peshawar writes that a Christian man in Pakistan has been arrested by police, and accused of blasphemy.  Friends and family members of Arif Masih (40) report he is being falsely accused by a Muslim neighbor who covets the man’s property and is using the blasphemy law for personal gain.

According to a statement from the National Commission for Justice & Peace (NCJP) Arif Masih of the Chak Jhumra district of Faisalabad was arrested on April 5 for having desecrated the Koran.

Shahid Yousaf, a Muslim neighbor of Masih, filed a complaint with the Sahiyanwala police station saying he found pages ripped from the Koran in the street, accompanied by a letter in English calling for the conversion of Muslims.  A complaint was subsequently registered under Pakistan’s Blasphemy Code against person’s unknown.

Police then arrested Masih, based upon Yousaf’s complaint, although no evidence was presented of his guilt nor was his name appended to the warrant.  The NCJP notes that Masih’s family recently prevailed in a lawsuit over a disputed piece of land with a member of Yousaf’s family.

According to the diocesan report Ejaz Masih, brother of the accused, charged the case had been fabricated by Yousaf “in order to grab a house adjacent to his house which Arif had purchased.”

The NCJP reports Masih is currently in police custody and has been moved to another station for his protection.

Approximately 964 people have been indicted for desecrating the Koran or insulting Mohammad since 1986, the NCJP said.  Of these 479 were Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadi Muslims, 14 Hindus and 10 from other religions. The NCJP said that since the law’s inception it “has been used as a pretext for attacks, personal vendettas and extra-judicial murders.”

Since 1986, 80 per cent of the blasphemy complaints have come from the central Punjab and there have been 43 extra judicial killings of those awaiting trial, the Masihi Foundation said.

London memorial services for slain Pakistani leader: The Church of England Newspaper, April 1, 2011 p 7. April 5, 2011

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Shahbaz Bhatti

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Memorial services for slain Pakistani government minister Shahbaz Bhatti were held last week in London.

On March 16, the Pakistan High Commission hosted a memorial service for the slain Minorities Minister, who was murdered on March 2 after calling for the reform of the country’s blasphemy laws.

Mr. Bhatti, a 42 year old Roman Catholic, was leaving his home when a gunman sprayed his car with 20 bullets.  He died while being transported to the Shifa Hospital in Islamabad.  The government minister was usually accompanied by security guards, but he had told them that day not to accompany him.  The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the murder.

At the March 16 memorial service, the High Commissioner of Pakistan in London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, told mourners he hoped his country would recover the vision of its founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and fight for a non-discriminatory Pakistan.

The former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir Ali, who led the Christian prayers for the service said Pakistan’s blasphemy laws had been abused and misused.  While Pakistan needed laws to prevent incitement to religious hatred that lead to violence or discrimination, the punishment for such a law should be commensurate with the seriousness of the crime, Bishop Nazir Ali said.

The murder of Mr. Bhatti, the chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, underscored the need for interfaith dialogue on how Christians and Muslim could live in justice and harmony in Pakistan, Bishop Nazir Ali said.

On March 17, St Margaret’s, Westminster held a memorial service attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Alexander Malik of Lahore, and the former Bishop of Peshawar Mano Ramulshah.

“Shahbaz knew the meaning of the cross which he followed all the way, to his last breath. But he also knew that the cross is not the end. He knew the power of Christ’s resurrection,” Bishop Tony Robinson of Pontefract told the congregation.

During the service, a recording made by the late government minister was played to the congregation. “When I’m leading this campaign against the Shariah laws and for the abolishment of the blasphemy law and speaking for the oppressed and for the persecuted Christians and other minorities, these Taliban threaten me,” he said.

“I’m ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights. So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles. I will prefer to die for my principles and for the justice of my community rather to compromise,” Mr. Bhatti said.

“Our tribute to Shahbaz will be to follow his love of truth and justice,” Bishop Robinson said, and not be “limited by fear in the face of adversity and persecution.”

Pakistani politican murdered over his call for repeal of Blasphemy Laws: The Church of England Newspaper, Jan 7, 2011 p 5. February 22, 2011

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Murdered Punjabi Governor Salman Taseer

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

A leading opponent of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws has been assassinated.  On Jan 4 the Governor of the Punjab Salman Taseer was shot to death by one of his bodyguards during a visit to an upscale shopping mall outside of Islamabad.

The murder of Salman Taseer is likely to further weaken the government of President Asif Ali Zardari and the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and set back the movement to reform the country’s blasphemy laws.

A moderate within the ruling PPP, Mr Taseer had been an outspoken opponent of the Taliban and had campaigned for the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in November.  He had been minister for industry and production under former military ruler Pervez Musharraf from 2007 to 2008, and was appointed Governor of the Punjab in 2008.

Pakistan has come under strong overseas political pressure to reform its blasphemy laws, with much international attention focused on the case of Mrs. Bibi.  President Zardari and Prime Minister Galani face the difficult task of satisfying the demands of the international community and moderates within the government that they pardon the imprisoned mother of five, and of Muslim leaders who have called for her execution.

Promises made last month to reform the Blasphemy Laws have since been shelved as the PPP seeks to find a coalition partner among the Muslim parties, who have opposed any changes in the law. On Jan 2 the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) quit the cabinet and joined the opposition, while the country’s largest religious based political party the Jumiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) left the government last month after one of its leaders was sacked as Religion Minister by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

In a statement released by Interior Minister Reham Malik, the government reported that Mr. Taseer had been shot by one of his security guards, identified as Mumtaz Qadri.

“He confessed that he killed the governor himself because he had called the blasphemy law a black law,” Mr. Malik said, adding that Qadri “has confessed his crime and surrendered his gun to police after the attack.”

Pakistani human rights activist Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry condemned the killing.  “This shooting is tragic and should never have happened.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, said Taseer’s “death is a tragic reminder of the extreme danger faced by all those who stand for justice in opposition to the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, whether politicians, journalists, lawyers or activists. How many more lives must be destroyed before this legislation is repealed?”

Handle with care militant Islam, British diplomat warns: The Church of England Newspaper, Jan 28, 2011 p 6. January 31, 2011

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Justin Bedford (right) speaking to Vatican Radio. Photo: Foreign & Commonwealth Office

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The EU should tread warily when dealing with militant Islam and not be seen as supporting Christian minorities in the Muslim world, the deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy to the Holy See said last week.  “We need to be very careful as to how the West, and the EU as part of the ‘western construct’, approaches the question of religions,” Justin Bedford told Vatican Radio on Jan 12.

His remarks come in contrast to comments made by the Second Church Estates Commission to Parliament on Jan 18, who condemned the persecution of Christians in the Muslim world and denounced the killing of the Governor of the Punjab this month—murdered for his support for Pakistan’s oppressed Christian minority.

Asked to comment on Pope Benedict XVI’s Jan 10 address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Vatican, where the pope voiced his concerns over the persecution of Christians in many Muslim majority countries, Mr. Bedford said the speech showed the pope’s belief in “protecting religious freedom as a fundamental human right.”

When questioned about what steps the EU might take to support or protect Christians in the Middle East, Mr. Bedford said “we need to be very careful as to how the West, and the EU as part of the ‘western construct’, approaches the question of religions.”

If the “West took the concept of Christianity under its umbrella,” it could “provide a reason for extremists to continue to divide those societies…we would seek to avoid that, if possible,” he said.

“If this question is discussed in the EU we would need to find an approach which did not divide societies, but sought to unite them and present solidarity between Christians and Muslims as they confront extremists.”

Speaking in response to a question from the member for Gillingham and Rainham, Mr. Rehman Chishti (Cons.), as to “what representations the Church Commissioners have made in support of Christians in Pakistan?”, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Tony Baldry, said “It is a sad and terrible fact that Christian minorities who have lived peacefully in Muslim countries for generations are finding themselves subject to increasingly violent persecution.”

“Churches have recently been attacked in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria, and the assassination in Pakistan of Salmaan Taseer for defending a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death was particularly horrible,” Mr. Baldry said.

Dr. Rowan Williams, Bishop Alexander Malik of Lahore and “the Christian community as a whole in Pakistan” were “working hard to foster inter-faith collaboration in Pakistan during this time of difficulty,” he said.

The murder of Governor Taseer was a “tragedy for Pakistan,” whose people appeared to have forgotten the maxim of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, “the father of Pakistan, who said: ‘you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship’.”

“What I suspect every Member of this House hopes for is that there shall be freedom of religion throughout the world,” Mr. Baldry said, “and I am sure that, as a Chamber, we will continue to campaign for that wherever we have the opportunity.”

Fair play for Pakistani Christians petition presented: The Church of England Newspaper, Jan 21, 2011 p 1. January 25, 2011

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Bishop Michael Nazir Ali, Pakistan High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan and Andy Dipper of Release International speaking to the press outside the Pakistani High Commission in London. Photo: Release International

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

A petition bearing 51,000 signatures has been presented to the Pakistan High Commissioner calling for fair treatment for the country’s religious minorities.

On Jan 13, the former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir Ali, and the CEO of Release International, Andy Dipper met with Mr. Wajid Shamsul Hasan in London urging his government to protect the country’s embattled Christian minority.

The hand over came as Christians gathered outside of the High Commission in Lowndes Square in Knightsbridge to pray for the Pakistani government and for jailed Christians—including Asia Bibi, a mother of five sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Release International reported the High Commissioner came out of the embassy to welcome those taking part in the vigil.  ‘We share your concerns, and we will do our utmost in the best possible way to provide security for the minorities and to alleviate their sufferings,” Mr. Hasan said.

The High Commissioner denounced the recent murder of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, saying he had been killed for “defending the right of a member of the minority. We will not surrender to such blackmail, we will fight them and we will eliminate them.”

Pakistan was in the “forefront of the war against terrorism,” the high commissioner said.

“It’s a war against those who abuse Islam, who declare themselves Muslims but are not. They are in my personal view more or less pagans, who have no consideration for human life,” Mr. Hasan said.

Bishop Nazir Ali stated that in addition to handing over the petition, he and Mr. Dipper had an “in-depth discussion of the legal and social situation in Pakistan” with Mr. Hasan.

They discussed “what can be done to ease the lot, not only of minorities, but of other people from the majority community who are in danger from some of these discriminatory laws,” the bishop said.

Iran Pak pact signed: The Church of England Newspaper, Jan 21 2011 p 7. January 23, 2011

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The Rt. Rev. Humphrey Peters, Bishop of Peshawar

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Dioceses of Peshawar and Iran have endorsed a link agreement to bind the two dioceses located astride the world’s religious and political fault lines to the evangelism of southwest Asia.

At a Nov 21 ceremony at St John’s Cathedral in Peshawar, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province—formerly known as the Northwest Frontier Province, the Rt. Rev. Humphrey Peters, Bishop of Peshaware and the Bishop in Iran, the Rt. Rev. Azad Marshall signed an agreement to “partner in the Great Commission and service of Christ’s people in the South Western region of Asia, encouraging one another and promising pastoral care to advance the work of the Kingdom in the region.”

The link programme will support visits and exchanges between the two dioceses, parish to parish links; mission team exchanges; evangelism programmes; a common prayer or intercessory calendar; training in ministry; renewal programmes; faithful communication; seminars and conferences ; work camps; attendance in diocesan conventions; assistance in time of need and working together on development projects.

The former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir Ali, during a visit to Pakistan welcomed the exchange, the Diocese of Peshawar writes, as being “crucial for the future of the gospel in the area and for the emerging partnerships among Biblical Anglicans throughout the communion.”

Bomb blast destroys Pakistani church: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 17, 2010 p 8. September 20, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Terrorism.
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St Paul's, Mardan

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

St Paul’s Church in Mardan in Pakistan’s Northwest frontier has been destroyed in a bomb blast.

On the night of Sept 12 at approximately 12:00 midnight a remote-controlled explosive device placed against the wall of the break away congregation of the Diocese of Peshawar detonated, causing one wall of the church to collapse.  Two policemen were reported injured in the blast, which sparked panic among revelers in the streets celebrating the second day of the Muslim Eid festival.

Had the bomb exploded during daylight hours, it would have taken a higher toll, police said, as the colonial era church is located next to a school, an open air market and a mosque.  No group has so far claimed responsibility, while church sources tell CEN it is unclear whether the media controversy surrounding a proposed Koran burning by a Florida Pentecostal church had any connection to the blast.

Bishop Peter Majeed, rector of St Paul’s, reports that he and his family were not injured.

While Christians have been the target of Taliban violence in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, formerly known as the Northwest Frontier Province, Sunday’s blast was the first attack on a church in several years.

In August 2008, St Paul’s withdrew from the Diocese of Peshawar when Mr. Majeed was consecrated as Bishop of the Northern Diocese Mardan by the former Church of Pakistan Bishop of Karachi, the Rt. Rev. Arne Rudvin.

Bishop Rudvin, who had been the Lutheran Bishop of Mardan before the Lutheran Church joined Anglicans to form the United Church of Pakistan, consecrated Bishop Majeed to re-establish the Lutheran succession in Pakistan.  He justified his actions by claiming the Church of Pakistan was corrupt and had succumbed to Western liberalism.

The August 2008 issue of the Diocese of Peshawar newspaper said the attempt to reestablish a Lutheran church in Pakistan was not recognized by the diocese’s European partners.  The Danmission, the Norwegian Mission Society, the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission, and the Church of Scotland had “condemned the totally illegal consecration” and did not recognize Bishop Majeed’s claims.

On Sept 7, 2008 Bishop Majeed was installed as bishop and took possession of St Paul’s Church in Mardan, Bishop Rudvin’s former see. On Sept 19, a Pakistani court permitted Bishop Majeed to keep possession of the colonial era church and its adjacent properties.  However, the Diocese of Peshawar has appealed the ruling.

Questions over Taliban murders raised: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 10, 2010 p 5. September 14, 2010

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

Reports that three American Christian aid workers were murdered by the Taliban last month in Pakistan’s Swat Valley are untrue, Church World Service reports.

On Aug 27 the Compass Direct news service reported that the aid workers had been abducted on Aug 23.  Citing the District Coordination Officer (DCO) for Swat, Atif-ur-Rehman, the news service reported three bodies were recovered on Aug 25.

“Military sources who withheld news of the deaths from electronic and print media to avoid panicking other relief workers granted permission to Compass to publish it in limited form,” Compass Direct said.  It also quoted Rizwan Paul, described as the head of a Pakistani Christian human rights advocacy group called Life for All, as saying the dead had been taken to Islamabad by the army.

The following day the BosNewsLife news service  reported that three “American Christian aid workers” had been killed.  Citing army sources, BosNewsLife reported the bodies had been taken to the US Embassy in Islamabad.  The names of the dead had not been released so as to avoid “panic” among the foreign aid community.

It cited an unnamed Pakistani military source as saying the bodies of the three had been taken to the U.S. Embassy. The source said the names of the victims and their organization had not been released so as “not to create panic” among other foreign aid workers.

However Church World Service last week issued a statement saying, “the local government, military commanders and police officials have informed our security team that this a baseless news report. All the names of the officials mentioned are fake and similarly no organisation called Life For All has been working in Swat area.”

It noted the Taliban had threatened Christian and foreign aid workers in the past, “so this is a sensitive issue.”

A spokesman for the  US Embassy has also denied receiving the bodies of dead aid workers and has not been notified of the kidnapping of murder of any US nationals.

Speaking to CNS on Sept 1, Mr. Paul said asserted that three foreign aid workers had been killed, but the government was covering up the murders.  “Pakistan military and other sources are trying their best to stop the news from getting out,” he said.

3 Christian aid workers murdered in Pakistan: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 3, 2010 p 6. September 7, 2010

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Bishop Alexander Malik of Lahore

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Three Christian aid workers have been murdered by the Taliban in the Swat Valley of Pakistan’s North West Frontier the BosNewsLife agency has reported.

The Christian news agency reported that the three American aid workers were kidnapped by suspected Islamist militants.  Their bodies were recovered on Aug 25 by the Pakistani Army and turned over to the US embassy.  A source in the Pakistani Army told BosNewsLife the names of the dead and the charity for which they worked have not been made public so as “not to create panic” among foreign aid workers.

Last week, the Diocese of Peshawar released a statement saying that in the Khyber Pakhtunkwa Province, formerly known as the North West Frontier Province “the worst hit area is Swat. The people of Swat were first hit by militancy and now they are terrorized by the natural disaster, worst of its kind in the living memory. Thousands are still trapped in floods, as roads and bridges have been washed away.”

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the deaths, which so far have not been confirmed by the US Embassy in Islamabad.

The monsoon-driven floods have flooded an area the size of England, along the Indus river valley and have caused an estimated £3.25 billion in damages and displaced over 21 million people.  The United Nations reports that an estimated 800,000 people remain stranded by the floods and are in need of food and clean water.

While this year’s monsoon has deposited 30 per cent more rain across the region, environmentalists blame the massive deforestation in the Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province for the flash floods and landslides. The Pakistani press has also reported that many of the dams and levees built for flood control that have burst were built with sand covered by a veneer of concrete, evidence they say of systemic corruption in the government’s flood control program

The government of President Asif Ali Zardari has come under intense press and public criticism for visiting France and England at the height of the crisis and not cutting short his overseas tour.  Prime Minister Yousaf Reza Gilani has focused his energies, critics charge, on the forthcoming parliamentary by-elections, and has addressed several political rallies announcing new development projects in marginal constituencies.  The failure of the civilian government to respond to the crisis will likely further destabilize the regime, political analysts note, paving the way for a return to power by the army or the seizure of power by extremists.

The army has taken an active part in relief efforts, deploying over 100,000 troops in a rescue and relief mission entitled Operation Lab Baik.  Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani has taken personal command of the military relief efforts and has been on the ground since the start of the crisis.

Coupled with the army’s efforts have been the activities of domestic and international relief agencies and the Taliban.  The Islamist Jama’at-e-Islami’s Al-Khidmat Foundation has organized relief assistance camps, while the outlawed Jama’at-ud-Dawa and Laskar-i-Taiba are reported to have provided food and medical assistance in rural areas.   In the Swat valley, the Tehreek-e-Taliban is reported by the Pakistani press to have a greater public presence in its relief efforts than the Pakistani government.

The UN’s emergency relief appeal for $459 million has resulted in pledges of assistance of $815.58 million from overseas NGOs and governments.

The minority Christian community in Pakistan has also joined forces to provide relief assistance.

Roman Catholic Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan and Church of Pakistan Bishop Alexander Malik of Lahore led a convoy containing food items and bottled water to the southern Punjab town of Khan Bela.

“This is our diocese. We have seen death with our own eyes in visits to flood hit areas. We came through these deadly waters to bring you food and show you that we care,” Bishop Francis told the UCA news agency on Aug 26.

“We are all Pakistanis and stand together amid this crisis,” Bishop Malik said.

New floods threaten Pakistan: The Church of England Newspaper, Aug 20, 2010 p 1. August 26, 2010

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

Another wave of flood waters is moving south along the Indus River, Pakistani officials warned on Aug 16, threatening to swell the ranks of the millions driven from their homes.  Around one-fifth of Pakistan was underwater over the weekend, and the official death toll has risen to 1463.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “In the past, I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this,” after visiting the Sindh.

Mr. Ban said he is allocating an additional $10 million from the U.N.’s emergency response fund for the disaster. Almost $305 million has been pledged for the relief effort, but Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said more aid is needed to address the country’s ruined infrastructure and agriculture.

Overseas aid has been slow in reaching Pakistan, however, and the UN said on Aug 13 said it had received only 20 per cent of the funds it needs to aid the victims.  Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called the global response so far, “lamentable, absolutely pitiful.”

In an email to the Church of England Newspaper, the Bishop of Peshawar, the Rt. Rev. Humphrey Peters stated, the “floods have devastated everything in Pakistan and especially in our part of the world.”

The diocese reports that Khyber Pakhtunkwa province, formerly known as the North West Frontier, has been especially hard hit.  “Thousands of villages are under water and hundreds of people are either dead or missing. All road links within the Province have been cut down; relief workers are trying to reach the affected people.”

“In Khyber Pakhtunkwa the worst hit area is Swat. The people of Swat were first hit by militancy and now they are terrorized by the natural disaster, worst of its kind in the living memory. Thousands are still trapped in floods, as roads and bridges have been washed away.”

“Similarly, people in Peshawar, Charsadda, Mardan, Pabbi, Tarnab Farm, Tarbella, Swabi and Nowshera have also lost literally everything and are residing in open spaces, apart from floods and no-aid.”

“There are reports that people are also suffering from trauma, gastroenteritis, are also facing the deadly snakes, scorpions and mosquitoes and have no protection and/or medicines and flood. There are reports that people are also suffering from trauma, gastroenteritis, skin diseases and cholera,” the diocese reports.

50 dead in Lahore terror bombing: The Church of England Newspaper, July 9, 2010 p 6 July 15, 2010

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

Church leaders in Pakistan have denounced the terror attack on a Lahore Sufi shrine that killed 50 and wounded over 200 people.

While no group has so far claimed responsibility for the triple suicide bombing, security analysts believe the attack was launched by Muslim hardliners to terrorize moderate Muslims.

On July 1 two men, whom police believe were in their early twenties, entered Pakistan’s most important Sufi shrine, the Data Ganj Baksh and detonated vests packed with ball bearings, while a third detonated his bomb in the shrine’s courtyard.

Pakistan’s Geo TV reported the first explosion took place at 10:48 pm.  Surveillance footage broadcast by Geo TV showed the first attacker entering the main gate with a bag.  As he passed through a metal detector, he triggered its alarm.  The bomber then ran into the courtyard and set off his charge.  The security camera recorded the second attacker entering during the confusion and detonating his charge five minutes later.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called upon the government to stamp out extremism.  “It is a matter of grave concern that despite repeated official claims of breaking the back of terrorists, they retain the ability to launch vicious terrorist attacks across the country almost at will,” the commission said on July 2.

“The assault demonstrates the potency of militant groups that the government incessantly repeats operate from sanctuaries in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan,” the statement said.

“Equally frustrating have been clerics’ stock statement that no Muslim can commit such atrocities. Instead of living in denial, the clerics need to reflect on the reasons for religious extremism in Pakistan and the possible consequences and their own contribution to the promotion of intolerance and the cult of violence,” the Human Rights Commission said.

Bishop Alexander Malik, Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, condemned the bombings saying it “is wrong to target innocent people. We stand united as a nation against terrorism and pray for the victims and their families.”

“Targeting places of worship is pure evil and extremely cruel. The government must step up its efforts to maintain peace; it’s a total disaster here,” the Roman Catholic vicar-general of Lahore, Fr. Andrew Nisar told ucanews.com.

Islamists consider Sufism, a moderate sect of Islam, to be heretical, and have vowed to drive them, along with Christians, Hindus and Ahmadi Muslims, out of Pakistan.

New terror warning from Pakistani bishop: The Church of England Newspaper, June 18, 2010 p 6. June 25, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Al Qaeda, Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Terrorism.
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The Rt. Rev. Ijaz Inayat

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Bishop of Karachi reports that Islamic Jihadist groups in Pakistan are attempting to recruit poor Christians for use in terror attacks.

On June 12, the Rt. Rev. Ijaz Inayat wrote to supporters in the West that “Jihadist militant organizations” acting in concert with rogue elements of the Pakistani government were “recruiting poverty stricken Christians to be trained and used as Militants.”

Jihadists have “previously recruited, trained and used such poor people from the Muslim back grounds from the slums of Pakistan” for use as suicide bombers.  However these “Christians converted to Islam will be used to target the Churches” and Pakistani Christians, he said.

The use of financial incentives to recruit then radicalize Christian converts to Islam will serve as a propaganda tool for the Jihadists, Bishop Inayat said.  “Since their identity will not be altered in documents it is feared that some of them will be apprehended and presented in the world media to nullify the impression that Muslim militants are not the only source of militancy,” he said.

He urged the security services in Pakistan and the West to be on the lookout for this new breed of terrorist.

Violence against Pakistan’s religious minorities has focused not only on Christians, but on Hindus, Sikhs and members of minority Muslim groups.  On May 28, Jihadists attacked two mosques in Lahore during Friday prayers, killing 94 members of the Ahmadi community.

The Pakistani government considers members of the Ahmadi sect to be heretics, and forbids the country’s four million Ahmadis from holding themselves out as Muslims or calling their worship places ‘mosques’.  Ahmadis believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a 19th century Punjabi cleric, was the second coming of the Messiah.

The Bishop of Lahore, the Rt. Rev. Alexander Malik condemned the “murderous attacks” on the “worship places of a minority community.”

Bishop Malik said “such terrorism is a heinous crime against humanity and a serious conspiracy against Pakistan. We, as a nation, should unite together to defend our beloved country Pakistan and the defeat of all kinds of terrorism.”

Militants bomb church: CEN 3.05.10 p 6. March 10, 2010

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

The Diocese of Peshawar reports that Islamic militants have bombed St Augustine’s Church in Kohat in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, badly damaging the colonial garrison church.

On Feb 12, a rocket or self-propelled grenade hit the perimeter wall of the church located near the city’s fort at 11:30 pm, badly damaging the church’s walls, doors and air-conditioning system.

The attack on the Christian community follows last year’s suicide car-bombing of the town’s central bazaar which targeted members of the Shia minority community in Kohat. The explosion during a busy market day killed 33 and wounded 80.

The government reported that a hitherto unknown militant group, the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi Al Almi, claimed responsibility for the September attack. The banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan denied having a role in the blast however the bomber was discovered to have come from territory controlled by the Taliban.

First reports from last month’s attack on St Augustine’s blame the Taliban.

In an email to supporters in the West, the Diocese reported the congregation had sustained a major financial loss, but “thank God there was no human loss”.

The North West Frontier Province was “in the frontline of the war against the militancy, and the Christian inhabitants of Kohat, Bannu, DI Khan, Karak, Tank and other tribal areas are living in a very tense situation,” the Diocese said, asking supporters to pray for “peace and especially for the Christian community of the Frontier Province”.

Pakistan Church hit by arrest warrant for bishop: CEN 2.19.10 p 8. March 2, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan.
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A warrant has been issued for the arrest of the Bishop of Karachi, the Rt. Rev. Sadiq Daniel, after the Sindh High Court (SHC) on Jan 25 issued an order revoking the bishop’s bail for a pending criminal assault case.

The arrest warrant for Bishop Daniel—who remains at large as of our going to press— is the latest in a series of troubles for the divided Church of Pakistan Diocese of Karachi, which has seen numerous lawsuits and was the subject of a failed intervention by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey.

On Oct 1, 1997 the Rev. Ijaz Inayat was elected Bishop of Karachi by the diocesan synod. Shortly before his consecration, a rival faction within the diocese charged the election was unlawful and received an injunction from a civil court blocking the consecration.

In 2002, the Rev. Sadiq Daniel was elected Bishop of Karachi in an election boycotted by supporters of Bishop-elect Inayat. Bishop Alexander Malik of Lahore, Bishop Samuel Azraiah of Raiwind and the former Bishop of Multan, the Rt. Rev. John Smart consecrated Mr. Daniel as Bishop of Karachi.

In response, Bishop Smart K. Dass of Hyderabad, Bishop John Samuel of Faisalabad, Bishop John Mall of Multan and Bishop Pervaiz Samuel of Sialkot consecrated Mr. Inayat as Bishop of Karachi. Litigation over who is the true bishop of Karachi is on-going.

The arrest warrant for Bishop Daniel arises from an incident where he allegedly assaulted the administrator of a women’s hostel.

On April 11, 2005, Bishop Daniel along with a number of supporters entered the offices of the administrator of the Brenton Carey Girls Hostel in Karachi and sought to evict Mrs. Ghazala Shafique—a support of Bishop Inayat, from her position. They allegedly stripped and beat her in an attempt to force her to sign documents relinquishing her position.

A criminal complaint for assault was filed against the bishop and three accomplices, and bail was granted on Jan 4, 2006. Mrs. Shafique filed an appeal challenging the bail application, and after a hearing on Dec 3, 2009, the court revoked the bishop’s bail on Jan 25, 2010, issuing the arrest warrant.

Bishop Daniel has denied his guilt in the Brenton Carey affair, and in 2009 told the Karachi News he was disappointed he was being tried in the press, while the proceedings were still pending before the civil courts.

Supporters of Bishop Daniel denounced Mrs. Shafique, a Christian convert from Islam, with “ulterior motives.” Bishop Daniel’s diocesan secretary Zafar Iqbal told the Karachi News “we have evidence of her frequent visits to Afghanistan from where she brought money to Pakistan to distribute among poorer members of the Christian community.”

“We suspected she may have been doing so to economically empower the Christians and then gradually turn them against the clergy, and so we decided to sack her,” he said. A charge denied by Mrs. Shafique’s supporters.

New Bishop for the North West Frontier of Pakistan: CEN 2.05.10 p 8. February 11, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan.
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The Church of Pakistan has elected a new bishop for the troubled North West Frontier. The Rev. Humphrey Peters was elected last month to succeed the Rt. Rev. Mano Ramulsah, who retired at Christmas.

A long time lay leader in the Church of Pakistan, Bishop-elect Peters was ordained to the diaconate on July 5, 2009 by Letters Dimissory of the Bishop of Peshawar by the Bishop of Buckingham in St Mary’s, Aylesbury, and to the priesthood last fall by Bishop Ramulshah.

The former General Secretary of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop-elect Peters has also served as the church’s delegate to the Anglican Consultative Council. His election comes amidst a rising tide of physical persecution for Christians in Pakistan at the hands of Muslim extremists, and state facilited legal attacks through the country’s Blasphemy Laws, which critics say are used by unscrupulous Muslims to attack business and social rivals in the Christian community.

Last month, the Pakistan National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) reported that a Christian shopkeeper was sentenced to life imprisonment and fined £750 for desecrating the Koran.

The general secretary of the NCJP Peter Jacob told the Compass Direct News service that Imran Masih (22) of Faisalabad was convicted of the crime of desecrating the Koran and insulting Islam on Jan 11.

He had been accused by a rival shopkeeper, a member of a Islamist militant group, of burning pages of the Koran. Masih denied the charge saying he had been burning old shop records. Compass Direct reported that Masih’s family said the charges were fabricated by the rival shopkeeper to put Masih out of business.

Section 295-B of Pakistan’s legal code governing the desecration of the Koran carries a sentence of life imprisonment, while blaspheming Mohammad under Section 295-C carries the death sentence. A single witness is sufficient under the code to warrant the imprisonment under the Blasphemy Laws.

Civil liberties and religious groups have urged Pakistan to reform its Blasphemy Laws, and government leaders have promised to reform the laws, but no action has taken place so far.

Call to abolish blasphemy law: CEN 11.06.09 p 6. November 12, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Persecution.
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CEN Logo

The Church of Pakistan has called upon its government to repeal the nation’s blasphemy laws, saying the legislation designed to protect the integrity of Islam was being used to persecute Christians for financial and political gain.

In a statement released following a meeting of its Executive Committee on Oct 21, the Church of Pakistan said the recent spate of attacks on Christians “has raised yet again the whole issue of the status and security of the religious minorities in an overwhelmingly Islamic country like Pakistan.”

Citing the July 31 attack on Gojra, where 10 Christians were killed by mob of Muslim militants, the Church of Pakistan said its members were “victimized under the false pretext of either having desecrated the Holy Quran or insulting the holy Prophet of Islam.”

“Such cases have become rampant during the recent decades as the Pakistani society has become increasingly intolerant of fellow Pakistanis, based on their religious identity,” they said.

The Blasphemy Law was being “blatantly and maliciously abused for the harassment and marginalization of Christians” and “almost all such cases arise out of personal disputes and malice or to gain some political points or even for some sinister covert operations,” they said.

They urged the government to repeal the Blasphemy Law, and introduce safeguards for the country’s minority communities. “We strongly demand of the Political Parties to resist all temptations to use the ‘religion card’ for political gains and instead use their influence and network to foster peace and harmony among all communities,” they said

Paksitani President promises support to Christian minority: CEN 9.25.09 p 8. September 29, 2009

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

President Asif Ali Zardari has promised the Archbishop of Canterbury and the former Bishop of Rochester that his government will crack down on those who abuse Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to persecute Christians.

Meeting on Sept 18 at the Churchill Hyatt Regency Hotel in London, President Zardari said his government was aware of the misuse of the blasphemy laws to persecute Christians, and promised Dr Rowan Williams and Dr Michael Nazir-Ali that those responsible for the Gojra massacre would be brought to justice.

Paksitani President promises support to Christian minority

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told reporters the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government was committed to interfaith harmony. The security and liberty of all Pakistani citizens, regardless of religion, was a priority for the Zardari government, he said.

On Sept 19 Lambeth Palace released a statement describing the meeting as a “constructive discussion” where all “agreed on the fundamental importance of mutual respect between religions and the responsibility of governments to ensure the safety of all citizens and especially of vulnerable groups.”

Dr Williams spoke of his sadness at the violence that had claimed the lives of so many Pakistani citizens and offered his deep condolences at the murder of Benazir Bhutto, the President’s wife. He said: “I pray that her death will not be in vain and that Pakistan will emerge from the present troubles to take its place as an example of a nation in which all are safe and respected.”

He also urged Pakistan to institute legislative reforms to protect the rights of religious minorities. President Zardari told Dr Williams his government had created a “quota for the minorities in the Government service, Senate, National and Provincial Assembly and appointed a Christian as Minister for Minorities to ensure appropriate representative of minorities,” Lambeth Palace reported.

President Zardari also extended an invitation to Dr Williams to visit Pakistan, and welcomed the work of the Christian Muslim Forum in the UK in addressing sectarian tensions.

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.
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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.”

Police issue warrant for Bishop: CEN 8.26.09 August 26, 2009

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

Punjabi police have issued warrants for the arrest of the Bishop of Faisalabad and 128 other Christians, charging them with conspiracy in the July 31 assault by Islamic militants on Gojra.

The First Information Reports or FIRs were filed this week by the Punjabi police against the Rt. Rev. John Samuel (pictured with Archbishop Chew of Singapore), the Church of Pakistan’s Bishop of Faisalabad and 28 other Christians, in retaliation for complaints of police incompetence in the wake of the attacks on Christians in the town of Gojra that left ten dead and destroyed three churches and over 100 homes.

FIRs have also been registered against 100 unnamed Pakistani Christians charging them as co-conspirators in the attacks.

Police issue warrant for Bishop

Local human rights activists have denounced the police action telling AsiaNews, “It is a revenge move by agents and district administration against the Christian victims of the accidents in Gojra.”

The three day anti-Christian pogrom began on July 30 in the village of Koriyan following a church wedding. Following local customs, confetti was tossed over the bride and groom as they left the church—however, local Islamists took offence saying 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.

In the days preceding the violence, the Punjabi police were warned of an impending action by the Sipah-e-Sahaba—who through a radical splinter group, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, are linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. During the attacks the police are alleged to have stood aside as the banned terrorist group destroyed the Christian quarter of the town.

“All the world knows about this incident very well, what the Islamic terrorists have done with the Christian community in my diocese and even in my city,” Bishop Samuel told The Church of England Newspaper in an email on Aug 26.

“Instead of arresting those responsible for this incident, the police have registered the F.I.R. against 29 nominated and 100 un-nominated people. My name and the name of my both sons are also included in those 29 names,” he said.

“We have again become the victims,” the bishops said, stating he had sent his family away from Gojra but would remain in the town and was ready to be “prosecuted for the glory and for the work of Jesus Christ.”

“I daily receive threats through phone calls from unknown numbers,” he said, and reported this to the police. However, the police are “not paying attention to us and they are just favouring the persons who are responsible” for the attacks.

Bishop Samuel has urged Christians around the world to “please pray for us and also do something for my family because we are in great trouble.”

Shock at ‘deadliest attack on Christians’: CEN 8.14.09 p 1. August 20, 2009

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Funerals for the victims of the anti-Christian pogrom in Pakistan began last week, with over 500 people packing Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Gojra for services for the seven Catholic victims of the violence.

Three members of the Church of Pakistan and seven Catholics were killed on Aug1 by a Muslim mob in Gojra in Faisalabad province in the Eastern Punjab. Reports from Pakistan emailed to The Church of England Newspaper along with press accounts indicate the violence began on July 30 at a Christian wedding in the village of Koriyan, near Gojra.

As the newly married couple left the church, guests tossed flowers, rice, slips of paper with words of prayer or encouragement and confetti onto the new couple according to local custom. Muslim on-lookers accused those tossing the confetti of having shredded a Koran, violating law 295 which criminalizes blasphemy for those who offend Islam, the Koran or Mohammed.

Since 1986, accusations of blasphemy for offending Islam have been lodged against 982 Pakistani Christians—with 25 killed by Muslim vigilantes defending the honor of their faith, according to data collected by Minorities Concern of Pakistan. The accusations of shredding a Koran led to stones being thrown. A fight ensued, and houses set ablaze.

On Aug 1, violence erupted when eight buses packed with masked and armed Islamic militants from outside the area, entered the neighboring Christian town of Gojra. The militants began chanting anti-Christian slogans, accusing the Pakistani Christians of being in league with America and enemies of Islam.

The sounds of the chanting mob alerted most of the residents of the town to the danger, and when the mob began to spray houses with gasoline, setting them alight, most of the residents had already fled. Seven of the dead died in the fires while three were shot to death, 68 homes were destroyed along with a Church of Pakistan church and an independent church.

Speaking to the congregation at the catholic funeral for seven members of the Hamid family, the Church of Pakistan’s Bishop John Samuel of Faisalabad said “while we believe those killed for their faith go to heaven, there are those who kill others for the promise of heaven.”

“Only the Word of God can bring comfort to our heavy hearts,” he said according to an account of the service given by the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN).

The pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church Fr. Shafique Hadayat told the congregation at the close of the service the dead had not died in vain. The Aug 1 attack on Gojra was the “deadliest attack on Christians in the history of this country,” he said.

But “their blood will not be wasted,” he said and would mobilize public opinion to bring an end to Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law.

Pakistan attack is an affront to God and Islam: CEN 8.14.09 p 6. August 20, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Persecution.
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The recent attack on the Christian village of Gojra in Pakistan must be denounced by all Christians and Muslims as an affront to God, the C-1 World Dialogue group of religious leaders has declared.

On Aug 9, the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres and the Grand Mufti of Egypt Dr Ali Gomaa released a statement on behalf of the interfaith group saying “murder, arson and theft committed in the name of God is both a crime and sacrilege.”

The “perpetrators of this attack” had committed crimes “not only against Christians but against Pakistan and beyond even that, against the honour and dignity of Islam,” they said.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Pakistan attack is ‘an affront to God and Islam’

Church leaders condemn deadly Pakistan rampage: CEN 8.07.09 p 6. August 10, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Persecution.
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The Archbishop of Canterbury has joined the Pope and other Christian leaders in denouncing Friday’s attack on a Christian village in Pakistan by a Muslim mob that left 9 dead and destroyed over 40 homes.

On Aug 4, Dr. Rowan Williams stated the “recent atrocities against Christians in Pakistan will sear the imaginations of countless people of all faiths throughout the world. As the minister of law in the Punjab has already said, such actions are not the work of true Muslims: they are an abuse of real faith and an injury to its reputation as well as an outrage against common humanity, and deserve forthright condemnation.”

Dr. Williams stated Pakistan’s 2.8 million Christians were a “small and vulnerable minority, generally with little political or economic power.” He urged the government of President Asif Ali Zardari to “spare no efforts, not only in seeing that justice is done in the wake of these terrible events, but also in continuing to build a society in which all faiths are honoured and in which the most vulnerable can be assured of the protection of the law and the respect of their fellow-citizens.”

On Monday Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone stated Pope Benedict XVI had called “on everyone to renounce the violence that has caused so much suffering and start working towards peace.”

The pope offered his condolences to the families of the dead and urged Pakistan to build a country were all faith communities displayed a “mutual respect” for one another.

In an email from Karachi, Bishop Ijaz Inayat reported that over 100 houses had been looted and 40 burned in the communal violence in the town of Gojra in the Punjab. Nine Christians had died—seven in the fires and two from gunshot wounds.

“This all started about 12’ o clock [Friday] when thousands of Muslims gathered near the railway station and marched towards the Christian town area where over two thousand Christian families have been housed for over fifty years,” he wrote.

“On reaching the neighborhood some two hundred persons hiding their faces with clothes opened fire on the Christian houses instantly killing on person named Inayat Masih and injuring others. Most of the people fled to save their lives, yet some unlucky got trapped inside their homes and were burnt,” Bishop Inayat said.

The police are alleged to have taken no action to stop the attacks, while the fire services were prevented from reaching the town by the mob, the bishop said.

Press reports from Pakistan indicate the government has blamed outside agitators linked to Al Qaida for the attacks and will compensate the victims of the attack and launch an investigation in to the local government’s handling of the affair.

Anti-Christian violence erupts: CEN 5.07.09 p 6. May 12, 2009

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Paramilitary troops are patrolling the streets of Karachi following a week of sectarian and political violence that has shut down much of the city. In an April 30 email to The Church of England Newspaper Bishop Ijaz Inayat reports “it is yet another sad day in Pakistan as over thirty persons were killed in violent clashes in different areas of Karachi and over 24 vehicles set ablaze, even houses and shops in big numbers set on fire.”

Clashes between Muhajirs, Muslims who migrated to Pakistan from India following the 1947 partition, and ethnic Pashtuns have killed over two dozen people, while Christians have taken to the streets to protest attacks on churches and members of their community.

Anti-Christian violence erupted when pro-Taliban militants tried to prevent local Christians from removing graffiti on their church that demanded Christians convert to Islam or pay jiziya, the poll tax levied on non-Muslim minorities living under Islamic rule as sanctioned by Sharia, the Daily Times reported on April 23.

When the police arrived to break up the fighting between Christians and Muslims, they turned their guns on the Christians, Bishop Inayat reported, shooting three men.

Michael Javaid, a former member of the Sindh Provincial Assembly, told the ANS news service Christians were afraid as a sizable number of Taliban had entered the city “in an attempt to press their demands of enforcing Sharia Justice System” in the city.

“I fear the Taliban will start demanding minority tax from Pakistani Christians too,” he added.

Last month the Taliban began demolishing the homes of members of the Sikh community in the Ferozkhel area of Orakzai Agency along the North West Frontier after the Sikhs failed to make a 15 million rupees jiziya payment to the Taliban. Taliban militants had demanded 50 million rupees, holding local Sikh leader Sardar Saiwang Singh captive and occupying a number of Sikh-owned houses until the minority community complied, the ANI news service said.

The imposition of the poll-tax on non-Muslims and increased violence has led many Sikhs, Hindus and Christians to flee Taliban controlled areas. The government is continuing its military operations against the Taliban, but the militants last week took control of the town of Buner, less than sixty miles from the capital of Islamabad.

On April 29, US President Barack Obama stated he was “gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan.” He said, “I’m … concerned that the civilian government there right now is very fragile.”

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari said his country was facing a “critical hour.”

“The time has come for the entire nation to give pause to their political differences and rise to the occasion and give full support to our security forces,” he said in a statement released on April 29.