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Christians face charges in riots triggered by church attacks

March's Lahore bombings sparked retaliatory violence and lynching

Christians face charges in riots triggered by church attacks

Pakistani Christians mourn over a victim's coffin after suicide bomb attacks on two churches in Lahore in March. (Photo by Arif Ali/AFP)

A Pakistani anti-terrorism court has ordered 88 Christians to appear before it for their alleged roles in violent riots that followed two church bombings in Lahore.

At least 15 people were killed and dozens of others were wounded in March when two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the churches while services were in progress.

Both churches — St. John's Catholic Church and Christ Church — were located in Youhanabad, one of the country's largest Christian neighborhoods.

The blasts triggered violent protests that resulted in the deaths of two Muslim men whom Christians had mistaken for terror suspects.

Police rounded up more than 100 Christians in connection with the riots and lynching cases. One of them was Pervaiz Sahotra, who heads a Christian political party.

His lawyer, Naseeb Anjum, said 88 people including Sahotra still remain in custody.

He said an anti-terrorism court in Lahore on Oct. 17 ordered that prosecutors produce all 88 people in a hearing scheduled for the end of the month.

"The court will frame charges against them in the next hearing," the lawyer said.

Advocates for the detained Christians face conflicting emotions. Christians, a minority in Pakistan, were the targets of the bomb blasts, yet the retaliatory violence that followed also resulted in bloodshed.

"Look, people in our country have done bigger agitations in the past and caused much worse damage," said Rev. Arshad Ashknaz of Christ Church, one of the two targeted churches.

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"We all condemned the violent agitation … but all this happened under police watch. Had the police action been timely, the lynching could have been prevented."

The minister said he was pessimistic about the fate of the detained Christians.

"The government is getting personal with minority people. We can only pray for a good outcome," he told ucanews.com.

Similarly, Father Francis Gulzar of St John's Catholic Church said he didn't expect the detained Christians to be released anytime soon.

"Many Christian families of those arrested are suffering both financially and psychologically. We hope for justice," said Father Gulzar, vicar general of Lahore Archdiocese.

Joseph Francis, director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, which helps persecuted Christians, said his organization is contesting the cases of 24 of the detained people.

"We are now approaching the Supreme Court to file a bail plea," he said.

Both suicide bombers were killed during the March church attacks, which were claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.

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