By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Outraged Pakistani Christians have taken to the streets of Lahore (and other cities in the country,) to protest against the terrible violence they have suffered following a blasphemy accusation against a young Christian.
Rioters running away after helping to burn down 200 homes and two churches
Some of the hundreds of protesters last Sunday threw stones at police, saying the government failed to adequately protect Christians, Lahore senior police official Rai Tahir.
"Tahir said video footage of the fires helped lead to the arrests of more than 150 attackers. He said charges of terrorism have been filed against the suspects," said a CNN report.
The violence that tore through Lahore's Badami Bagh community on Saturday, March 9, 2013, followed the arrest of Sawan Masih, a Christian in his 20s accused of blasphemy.
"But Masih's arrest wasn't enough to appease an angry mob of Muslims irate over the alleged crime," added CNN. "(The) mob wanted police to hand them over the alleged blasphemer, said Hafiz Majid, a senior police official in Badami Bagh.
An anguished Pakistan Christian woman following the attacks on her community
"If convicted, Masih faces the death penalty. He denies the allegations made by the two men who filed the blasphemy complaint against him with police on Friday (March 8, 2013), Majid said."
Since that time, hundreds Pakistani Christians become homeless in Badami Bagh, said ANS correspondent, Shamim Masih, who also reports for the British Pakistani Christian Association.
He said, "Two hundred homes were turned to ashes and poor Christians are now living in the streets, desperate for food and other needs. Their children cannot attend school or college due to the destruction and fear. Many Residents have expressed great dismay and sorrow and depression is seeping through the entire community."
One Christian that Shamim Masih spoke to, Sajid Masih, broke into tears as he said, "I feel helpless and unable to do anything for myself and my family."
A Christian protest
"In Youhanabad and Kot Lakhpat, Lahore police used this opportunity to beat the innocent Christian protestors, shot tear gas at them and beat them with sticks, yet when the Muslim attack took place they stood back and watched till the town had been razed to the ground," he said.
He said demonstrations also took place in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Sialkot, Jhelum and Sahiwal, as well as other cities across Pakistan.
Mr. Masih said that Muslims of Jhelum City, located on the right bank of the Jhelum River, in the north of Punjab province, "then threatened to burn Christians homes like those in the Badami Bagh community, in response to the protests."
According to sources, on March 12, 2013, Christians of Jhelum City began to protest against the violence in Badami Bagh, chanting slogans like, "Repeal the Blasphemy Law" and "The Blasphemy law is a Black Law."
"After this had occurred," added Shamim Masih, "local Imams began preaching hatred from their mosque loudspeakers calling Muslims to gather together and punish those Christians who were decrying the Blasphemy law.
"Local radicals have pressured the area police station to lodge a First Investigation Report - FIR under 295-C PPC -- against Christians who chanted slogans against the blasphemy laws.
"Now the community living there is living in fear of reprisals for their simple act of condemning violence and the blasphemy laws of Pakistan that have been used as a tool for destruction and intimidation."
Basharat Khokhar, a local human rights activist, said that there were around 26 Christian families living among the large Muslim population in an area of the city.
The local Christians, he said, arranged their protest to show their solidarity with Christians of Badami Bagh community, and Mr. George Masih led the protest rally. Khokhar said that they "obtained permission from the District Police Officer (DPO) who provided them with security. There were 250 people in the protest rally. The next day, Muslims demanded the arrest of George Masih and called for the registration of an FIR against him."
According to Pastor Naeem Bhadhar, a Presbyterian missionary living in Kalaswala village, in the Sialkot district, located about 87 miles from Lahore city, told Shamim Masih by telephone, that he had arranged a protest rally in his city but on Thursday, March 14, 2013, when he was travelling back to his village "a few radical Muslims from Jammat ut Dawa [a Muslim organization] severely beat him with sticks and destroyed his motorcycle.
"He has been severely injured and was taken to hospital and has had a number of stitches on his left arm. He has been warned by the extremist group, that if Christians organize further protests, they will be killed."
BPCA volunteers joined Shamim Masih to deliver food packages to every tent in the area
He said, "We found more than 178 families that were living in tents in different streets. They are all scattered in different areas and though we usually set up one base and distribute our aid from there, we decided to visit each resident in their individual tents. More than 200 food packets were distributed among the needy people of Badami Bagh."
One person, he was able to help was Bushra bibi, sister of Sawan Masih, the accused young man in the blasphemy case. She told him, "Thank you for the food packages. We have been hungry and have no sources of income, as our men are too scared to go to work, where they will be threatened."
A time of prayer was held at Sawan's family home before the distribution
She added, "We want to see our brother, who is alone in the jail and nobody is taking care of his case. I have heard a cleric say that they [the Muslims] will hang him."
Another person that Mr. Masih was able to deliver aid to was Naila bibi, a young lady, who told him, "We have been here in tents and very few people have reached to us. I request my Christians around the world to step in to help us in our restoration."
Sardar Masih, father of five young children, said, "It's hard to survive in this sort of situation, but we are here and now our future generation is suffering from cruelty from our Muslim neighbors."
Shamim Masih said, "There is a desperate need for cooking utensils and equipment, families also require proper bedding, a source of clean water and some temporary maintained toilet facilities. Families seek prayer and have no church building to worship in, they are seeking a large tent for church services. We pray that God will provide for the needs of this innocent community."
Wilson Chowdhry Chairman of the BPCA, based in London, England, said, "The quality of life for Pakistani Christians has reached a nadir. This recent attack on Badami Bagh is unwarranted and a blight on the nation. St Joseph's community [where Badami Bagh is located] has been left destitute and homeless and when other Pakistani Christian communities decried this treatment, they have been savagely attacked by police authorities and threatened by local Imams. Yet police failed to intervene when 200 Christian homes and two churches were being raised to the ground?
Chowdhry added: "This dual standard response has illustrated how minorities are regarded as worthless anathema, in a nation that has espoused the demonization of any non-Muslims in their educational textbooks and media. Blame for the continuing extremism in Pakistan therefore lies firmly in the hands of the political leaders, whose lack of equality measures has resulted in sectarianism, community schism and opportunists/religious zealots taking advantage of vulnerable minorities.
"Unless the Government of Pakistan reforms its legal frameworks, constitution and national curriculum to protect and recognize its minorities, the polarization we see now will eventually manifest as numerous massacres."