Pakistan Federal Minister for Minorities condemns violence, while some Christian villagers are missing after July 30 attack

By Dan Wooding and Sheraz Khurram Khan

Scene of the July 30 destructionTOBA TEK SINGH, GOJRA, PAKISTAN (ANS) — In another shocking display of violence in Pakistan, Islamists set ablaze some 60 Christian houses in Korian village in Toba Tek Singh district on Thursday, July 30, 2009, at 9:00 pm Pakistan time after a blasphemy accusation was leveled against a young Christian boy, Imran Masih, and his father Talib Masih.

Eye-witnesses told ANS they could still see plumes of smoke rising from some houses of the village today (Friday, July 31.)

The trouble began for the Christian residents of Korian when Talib, a Christian vendor ignorantly brought home a piece of paper that had Quranic verses written on it, along with some other rough papers.

Talib’s children innocently ripped apart the paper not understanding its contents.

When some local Muslims found the torn pieces of paper, the anti-Christian hostility spread like a wildfire in the village.

Living up to their reputation of penalizing so-called “blasphemers”, local Muslim clerics accused the father and son of committing blasphemy and made inflammatory statements against the blasphemy-accused and incited Muslim residents of Korian and adjoining villages to attack the Christians of the village to avenge alleged blasphemy.

One of the 60 houses set ablazeSome 500 Muslims from nearby villages of 95, 97 and 362 (J.B), who were armed with firearms and explosives, attacked the Christians of the village. The Christian residents fled to safety as Muslim clerics announced their verdict to “kill the blasphemers.”

The chemical used by the Muslim mob to set fire to Christian houses was so inflammable that it utterly destroyed the targeted houses. The Muslim mob also took away Christians’ cattle with them.

On hearing of the incident, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities, rushed to the scene and ordered the police and local administration to arrest the culprits.

Talking to ANS from the village Korian, the Minister termed the attack as a “heinous crime” against Christians.

Mr. Bhatti went on to say, “It is a worst act of violence against minorities. The perpetrators, instigators and attackers should be arrested for actions against the Anti-Terrorism Act.

“We will protect the lives and properties of minorities and the Christian community. We won’t allow any miscreant or extremist to target our Christian brethren.

“Pakistani minorities are not conquered subjects or a sacred trust of anyone. They have same dignity and honor in this country as anyone else. We will protect their honor and respect.”

Criticizing Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy Laws, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti said that the laws are being “widely misused to victimize minorities and innocent people of Pakistan.”

This law, he said is a “tool in the hands of the extremists and miscreants to harass the minorities and settle personal scores.”

Mr. Bhatti apprised ANS that a judicial inquiry has been ordered to look into this case and the culprits “would be charged.”

He went on to say, “The blasphemy laws need to be either amended or repealed. A Pakistani Christian, or any other member of minority communities, cannot commit blasphemy.”

Imran, one of the blasphemy accusedBhatti has been at the forefront in the campaign for the repeal of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. In the month of July, the minister stated that he would table a bill in Pakistan’s national assembly for the repeal of “all discriminatory laws.”

The Minister visited the homes of affected Christians and expressed solidarity with them. He also addressed a gathering of local Christians held in the Church of Pakistan in Korian.

Mr. Bhatti also chaired a meeting later and directed the local administration and the police to take stringent measures aimed at protecting the lives and properties of minorities.

According to media reports, Pakistan President, Asif Ali Zardari, and Pakistan Prime Minister, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, have also condemned the July 30 violence against Christians.

Sohail Johnson, the Chief Coordinator of the Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan (SLMP)who arrived in the village with his team on July 31, has strongly condemned the incident and appealed to the government to ensure the protection of lives and properties of Pakistani Christians.

Pointing to the rising incidence of blasphemy-related violence he said that at one time “we would hear of blasphemy accusations earlier in years and months, but now it is happening in weeks and days.”

Johnson said that he witnessed heart-rending scenes adding, “I wonder what will become of the Christians of Pakistan.”

He said the local Christians were in a “state of fear and uncertainty,” and Johnson called upon government to “play its role in defusing extremism.”

House That was torchedHe urged the international community to pray for the Christians of Pakistan and cited a local Christian Councilor, Finias, as saying that some young Christian girls are also missing from the village. He dismissed reports suggesting that there have been casualties or injuries in the wake of July 30 violence in Korian.

Sohail Johnson further told ANS that the Muslim mob also attacked the New Apostolic Church and the Church of Pakistan in the village. He said the Muslim mob had “desecrated and ransacked the churches.”

He also cited the District Coordination Officer, Raja Abbas, as saying that “nobody has committed blasphemy in the village.”

The Chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Teachers Association (APMTA) and head of Social Harmony and Development of Women (SHADOW), Professor Anjum, who was present in the village along with his fact-finding team that also included Dr. Amjad Aftab, Saith Munawar and Daniel Sohotra, told ANS that he could still see “fire raging in some houses.”

He said that the fire “had done extensive damage to the houses and properties of the Christian residents” of Korian.

Condemning the incident, he said that the perpetrators of fresh violence against Christians should be dealt with an iron first.

Professor Anjum told ANS that three Christian men — Riaz Masih, Salamat Masih and Faryad Masih — who had come to visit their relatives namely Liaqat and Ishfaq, were missing after July 30 attack against Christian villagers of Korian.

Anjum also visited a Christian woman called Hanifa, who told him that her five daughters were missing since the July 30 attack. Describing the extent of damage done to the Christian residents of the village by the Muslim invaders, the Chairman of the APMTA said that the Muslim mob “plundered and ransacked the Christians’ houses before setting them ablaze.”

He added, “They took away with them all valuables including TVs and water pumps.”

He described blasphemy-accused Talib’s house as a scene of “utter destruction.”

He quoted Talib and Imran’s family as saying that the invaders had “badly manhandled” Talib and Imran before destroying their house. He said Muslim mob also burnt and desecrated pages of Bible and The Lord’s Prayer.

Mr. Kamran Michael, The Provincial Minister of Minorities and Human Rights of Punjab Province, described the July 30 violence as a “national tragedy.”

He called upon Christians to “forge unity at this critical juncture.” Mr. Michael said that the incident had occurred due to the “negligence and apathy of local and district administration.”

This latest incident is just one of many that have occurred in recent times in Pakistan.

Angry Muslims set ablaze some 100 Christian houses in Bhamniwala village which falls in district Kasur near the eastern city of Lahore on June 30.

Michael in his statement announced financial assistance for the Christian villagers who have been rendered homeless in the wake of July 30th violence. He also vowed to work for the welfare of the affected Christians.

“We stand by the Christians of the village at this critical time,” he said in a statement.

Pervez Rafiaque, a member of the Punjab Provincial Assembly Punjab and also a member of the Central Executive Committee of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), also condemned the incident and assured of APMA’s fullest support and cooperation to the affected Christians.

Another member of the Punjab Provincial Assembly, Joel Aamir Sohatra, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Minorities Affairs and Human Rights, Khalil Tahir Sandhu, said in their statements that they would stand by the Christians during this difficult time.

Samuel Qamar, a former Councilor, said that the Christians of Gojra, a Tehsil (administrative division) of district of Toba Tek Singh could “afford to be martyred because of their faith” but they would not be “intimidated by such cowardly acts of extremism.”

Reacting to the fresh incident of violence against Pakistani Christians, Mr. Joseph Francis, the National Director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLASS), has said that the July 30 attack on Christian residents of Korian has “reopened wounds” of Christians which they suffered in the wake of 1997 attack on Shantinagar, a Christian village, as well as it has brought back “tragic memories” of Muslim violence in Christian villages of Bhamniwala and Sangla Hill.
“This is the fourth biggest blasphemy-related incident of violence in seven months of this year,” Mr. Francis said, and pointed out the Christians were being subjected to atrocities, whose ancestors “had polled a casting vote for the creation of Pakistan.”

The Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, Fr. Manni, said that the perpetrators of the July 30 incident should be brought to book.

“How much longer can such incidents continue to happen?” he questioned.

The Rt. Rev. John Samuel, Bishop of the Church of Pakistan (Diocese of Faisalabad,) also issued a statement in which he condemned the incident.

The Rev. Yaqoob Khushi, a Curate at St Mary the Virgin Anglican Church in Norwood, South London, also condemned Muslim attack against Pakistani Christian villagers. He cited an “escalation in fanaticism” as a cause behind the fresh incident of violence. He expressed solidarity with the affected Christians. He appealed to Pakistani authorities to launch a serious probe into the incident and ensure that the culprits are brought to justice.

Barkat Masih, 76 a local resident equated the July 30 brutal attack to the direct affront to the Christian faith.

“Is it fair to subject Pakistani Christians to this attack when the people of Pakistan are going to celebrate the Independence Day of Pakistan next month,” he argued. Pakistan rose on the map on August 14, 1947.

The Director of Faisalabad Diocese’s commission for Interfaith Harmony, Fr. Aftab James Paul, in his condemnation statement said that the incident was “reminiscent of the brutal attacks people were subjected to in the age of darkness and ignorance.”

He added, “I fail to understand why the miscreants should force Pakistani Christians to flee from their homes in which they have been living even before creation of Pakistan.”

He described the setting ablaze of Christian’s houses as a “blatant violation of Pakistan’s constitution” as well as a “violation of the United Nations Declaration on Human rights.”

He added, “A handful of miscreants behind this dastardly act of violence should be dealt strictly and no lenience should be extended to them.”

Arslan Bhatti, a local media man, described the situation in the village as “tense.” He said the Christians have taken shelter in a local Church in the wake of July 30 incident. He said the law enforcement agencies had cordoned off the area to avert any possible “untoward eventuality.”

Zaheer Babar of the Christian Strategic Initiative (CSI) told ANS that when his team had arrived at the scene of incident, “all houses of Christians were burnt during the July 30 attack.” He added that the Christians of the village managed to escape from the fire. He claimed that the CSI team helped fleeing Christians to go to their relatives’ houses and gave them some money and arranged the transport for them. The CSI team, he said, also provided them water bottles because there was no water for drink.

The CSI spokesperson said that many of the Christians have been robbed of their livestock.

“Rehabilitation is required urgently because nothing is left behind for these poor innocent people,” said Babar.

1 Response to “60 Christian Houses In Pakistan Reduced To Ashes By Chemical Bombs Over Blasphemy Accusation”

  1. 1 chanah

    LORD JESUS forgive them they know not what their doing, amen

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