Christian schools throughout Pakistan will go on strike Nov. 17 to protest the attacks on Christians in Sangla Hill, Punjab, this past weekend.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, or CSW, says Hindu, Sikh and Muslim leaders have joined church leaders in condemning the outbreak of violence, and the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, or APMA, has declared seven days of mourning. Church leaders are calling on the Pakistani authorities to bring the main instigators of the violence to justice.
CSW says: “In Pakistan’s worst outbreak of anti-Christian violence since gunmen attacked a church on Christmas Day 2002, a mob destroyed the Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and United Presbyterian churches in Basti Asyia, Sangla Hill village, accusing a Christian man of desecrating the Quran.”
The mob, estimated to number between 1,000 and 2,000, struck at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, destroying the three churches as well as a convent, St. Anthony’s School, a girls’ hostel and a Catholic priest’s home.
They burned Bibles, Christian literature, crosses and other Christian materials, and set fire to Christian homes. According to APMA, which sent a team to the area, “within minutes, the Christian residential area was blazing. Christian residents fled to save their lives.”
CSW says that according to eyewitnesses, the attack appeared to have been premeditated, as the mob was brought into the village in buses.
More than 450 Christian families from the area had fled the previous night after receiving threats, according to the National Commission for Justice and Peace.
Church leaders, including the Catholic archbishop of Lahore, Lawrence Saldanha, the moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop Alexander Malik, representatives of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan and the national director of the National Commission for Justice & Peace, Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, visited the Christian community in Sangla Hill yesterday. Basti Asyia is a Christian area of Sangla Hill.
According to sources in Pakistan, Yousaf Masih won a gambling game with a Muslim group in the stadium. Soon after he left, a fire broke out in the Islamic library next to the stadium, and several books caught fire, including the Quran. The Muslim men who lost the gambling accused Masih of starting the fire. The news spread, and announcements were made in local mosques urging Muslims to attack Christians.
The local priest, Father Samson Dilawar, informed the police 12 hours before the attack, requesting protection, but no action appears to have been taken by law enforcement to prevent the violence. Subsequently, 88 people have been arrested and charged under the Anti-Terrorism Act. But according to APMA, the major instigators of the attack have not been arrested.
CSW reported: “The incident took place a day after Yousaf Masih, a Christian, was accused of desecrating the Quran and a case was registered against him under Section 295B of the blasphemy law. Yousaf Masih is still missing, but according to press reports his brother, Salim Masih, has been detained. No investigation into the allegations has been carried out, although initial reports suggest that they were falsely made in order to settle a score over a money dispute between the accusers and the accused.”
In a statement issued immediately after the attack, Archbishop Saldanha said: “In the wake of the earthquake … this lawlessness is bad news for the country. The situation calls for serious action on the part of everybody concerned with the well-being of the country.”
He said that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are “the main sources and tools for creating social, sectarian and inter-religious disharmony. It is negligence on the part of the ministries responsible, who allow the misuse [of the blasphemy laws] at such a large scale, causing a huge amount of injustice.”
The archbishop and other leaders have accused the local police of being party to the attack.
They called for “an immediate judicial inquiry” into the incident and disciplinary action against the police for “criminal negligence.”