Church schools and other Christian institutions in Karachi have closed in protest at the killing of Christians in Pakistan’s central Punjab region in a mob attack.Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Pakistan, in a Aug. 3 statement, called upon, “all Christian institutions in Punjab to close down and observe mourning for three days to condemn the burning of seven Christians alive.”The Christians killed in the Aug.1 incident were reported to include four women and two children. In addition, 50 people were injured and scores of Christian homes torched.The violence followed rumours that Christians in the region had desecrated a copy of the Quran, the Muslim holy book. The attack in Gojra took place as a Muslim march passed through a predominantly Christian area in the town.”The leaders of the march were inciting violence against Christians and there was even firing from the mob on Christians,” Peter Jacob, a spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Pakistan, told Ecumenical News International on Aug.3.After one Christian returned fire, Jacob said, the Muslim crowd, said to number hundreds, attacked the Christians and set their houses on fire.”Many of the dead were shot and set on fire. The post mortem showed bullet injuries besides the burning,” said Mr. Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church. He questioned why authorities allowed, “such a provocative procession to enter a Christian neighbourhood at all.”The Geneva-based World Council of Churches on Aug.3 appealed to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to ensure the security of Christians in the Punjab province, noting three attacks against Christian communities by militant Islamic groups in the previous two months.”The Gojra carnage of Aug.1, the latest in a series of organized attacks against Christians reconfirms the fear that the government is constantly failing to protect its citizens who frequently face attack by militant Islamic groups,” wrote Rev. Samuel Kobia, WCC general secretary.In Lahore, the National Council of Churches of Pakistan, which groups four Protestant denominations, deplored the attack on the Christians as “shocking.”Victor Azariah, the church council’s general secretary, told ENI that the attack followed violence that broke out on July 30 in the nearby Korian village after the rumours that Christians had defiled the Quran.More than 40 Christian homes were reported to have been torched in Korian after clerics used the public address system of the local mosque to call for such attacks. A crowd prevented fire fighters from reaching the burning houses with Muslim women lying down on the roads to block access for the fire fighting trucks.In a statement released in Geneva by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a Pakistan church leader pleaded for assistance in response to violence against Christians.”The situation is grave in Korian. The Christian community has lost everything. They are desperate for help. As usual, police and authorities have not acted in time,” said the church leader, who requested anonymity.Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister for minorities, who is a Christian, denied that the Quran had been defaced by Christians and accused police of ignoring his appeal to provide protection to Christians.
The NCCK’s Mr. Azariah welcomed a government decision to send the army to Gojra to restore peace to the troubled area. The government has also announced compensation of one million rupees (US$12,000) to the relatives of those killed and has promised to rebuild at government cost the Christian homes destroyed in the violence.Still, Mr. Azariah cautioned that “unless the blasphemy law is abolished, such attacks will continue.” He was referring to a law that is often exploited to settle property and personal disputes with Christians and others in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the 175 million population are Muslim.