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The world looks away as Pakistani Christians suffer

Blasphemy laws have become a tool for persecuting poor and marginalized communities like Christians
Javed Masih, a Church committee member, kissing a picture of the Stations of the Cross found in the debris of the Catholic Church that was attacked on Aug. 16 in the Christian town of Jaranwala in Pakistan's Punjab province

Javed Masih, a Church committee member, kissing a picture of the Stations of the Cross found in the debris of the Catholic Church that was attacked on Aug. 16 in the Christian town of Jaranwala in Pakistan's Punjab province. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhry)

Published: August 25, 2023 12:20 PM GMT
Updated: August 27, 2023 05:10 AM GMT

The deadly anti-Christian violence in Shanti Nagar of Pakistan's Punjab province on Feb. 6, 1997, saw a frenzied Muslim mob destroy 13 churches and about 775 Christian houses and burn some 2,000 Bibles. Up until now, it was considered the worst attack against Christians in Pakistan.

The mob nearly decimated the predominantly Christian settlement and its neighboring Tibba village after Muslims accused Christians of desecrating the Quran.

Some 26 years later, Christians witnessed another larger-scale violence on a similar allegation in the Christian neighborhood in Jaranwala, also in Punjab province, on Aug. 16. This time, 21 churches and 400 houses were attacked. At least 19 churches were completely burned as well as 89 houses destroyed. 

Both attacks were based on false allegations. They were also premeditated and well-coordinated by the Islamic fundamentalists.  

When I visited Jaranwala the next day and ventured out on the streets, it was nothing but a second Shanti Nagar. Smoke was still billowing from burned churches and houses, and the streets were full of ashes and were mostly deserted. It was like witnessing a living hell. 

Since I read the reports on violence, I was merely expecting burnt churches and vandalized crosses, but the rampage was extremely overwhelming to bear. A church was reduced to a pile of ashes and tar of smoke blackened the cross, the symbol of Christianity.

Burned Bible pages were scattered all over. The stench of the chemicals and molten metals was strong enough to give a sense of burning in the nostrils and throat.

A pastor's house linked with the church gave a sense of destruction. The floor was covered with the ashes of what might have been furniture at a time, school bags were reduced to ashes and quilts lay shredded. The same scenes of destruction were witnessed in several other houses.

The entire houses were covered with ash and debris of half-burnt furniture. The mob robbed these innocent, mostly poor people and destroyed almost everything – televisions, furniture, refrigerators grains, and even kitchen utensils.

People who lost everything were crying as they returned to the debris of their shelters, where they had been living for years.

A local farmer fought tears as he shared about how his stored wheat grain was burned to ashes.

The attackers were well-prepared to ensure maximum damage to churches and Christian property. A resident said the attackers had barrels of chemicals with them to set things on fire. They also carried weapons. 

I also heard a story of a great Shia Muslim man who begged the attackers to spare the Bibles as the attackers pounded on the church. He took away the Bibles and stored them in his house. There are also stories of good Muslims, who offered sanctuary to Christians who fled the violence.

The saddest part is that many Muslims I came across had no remorse for the deplorable act. They seemed to be proud of their actions. This hatred and hostility for poor and weak Christians is sickening.

This vigilante attack was despicable. And yet police have registered a case against two Christians accused of blasphemy. The allegation triggered the attackTherere have been scores of such attacks, not just against Christians but also other minority groups including Shia and Ahmadi Muslim sects over alleged blasphemy. Mob lynching saw people beaten to death and burned alive.

None of such allegations of blasphemy were proved. Yet, no one has been punished for making false allegations.

Dozens of cases over blasphemy have been registered under the Penal Code that criminalizes defamation of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad by life imprisonment and death sentences.

Many were arrested and jailed, though none has been executed by the state so far. Asia Bibi, a Christian woman was sentenced to death, but she was acquitted by the Supreme Court.

In reality,  blasphemy laws have become a tool for targeting and persecuting poor and marginalized communities like Christians in the Islamic nation.

Now and then, fabricated allegations of blasphemy emerge. But they stem from socio-economic issues such as personal enmity, hatred, and land disputes.  Religion is exploited to settle personal scores.

This has been made possible because Christians are among the poorest and most disadvantaged groups in Pakistan with no political and financial clout to pose a challenge to a numerically and economically dominant Muslim majority. Christian persecution is often linked to discrimination and disrespect.

Apparently, governments have no political will to amend the blasphemy laws fearing backlash from hardliners and losing votes. There has been no notable move to end discrimination against Christians either.

Two politicians – Punjab’s government Salman Taseer and Federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti – and High Court Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti were assassinated for supporting the repeal of the blasphemy laws.

The tragedy is that the international community continues to look away as Christians and other minorities face constant persecution and deaths at the hands of fundamentalists.

The fumbled criticism from human rights groups over the past decades has made no difference in the lives of Christians in Pakistan.

Over the past decades, many Christians, who could gather resources, have fled the country and settled in various countries either as refugees or immigrants. The poor have no option, so they are left to rot and face persecution.

We don’t know how many Shanti Nagar or Jaranwala will be required to prompt the international community to look seriously to end the plight of the poor and persecuted Christians in Pakistan.  

*Anee Muskan is a writer and journalist in based Pakistan who writes about religious affairs and minority rights. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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6 Comments on this Story
JOHN MASCARENHAS
it is a SHAME that christians in pakistan and india are facing persecution due to ALLEGATIONS. the fanatic muslims of pakistan and fanatic hindus of india, based on their majority believe that they have the power get away with anything WITH THE HELP OF THEIR POLITICIANS IN lynching/rapes/destruction of properties. THESE SAME BASTARDS SEND THEIR CHILDREN TO WESTERN COUNTRIES WHERE THEY DEMAND PROTECTION AND SEEK CHRISTIAN MONIES TO HELP THEIR COUNTRIES.
AMBER JEANETTE GARDNER
The sad thing is the reporting ended with Jaranwala, but there have been more blasphemy cases filed against Christians since then in Sargodha. The attackers have also come after other cities since, but since the police get the mobs under control then nothing is reported on. They came after Sargodha, Rawalpindi, and just yesterday Qasur. The attackers KEEP coming and the ENTIRE world is silent.
FR DAN
Sadly, the globalist agenda has no regard to Christians. God give these Christians strength in persecution, and may the old saying.. the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church. May many come to a saving relationship with Christ in Pakistan
SATEJ TIMAKIWALA
Please tell me,, are the 100% Christians are migrated from USA EU Australia Newzealand Portugal OR becames Christians in India (Goa also) like Muslims
AMBER JEANETTE GARDNER
The sad thing is the reporting ended with Jaranwala, but there have been more blasphemy cases filed against Christians since then in Sargodha. The attackers have also come after other cities since, but since the police get the mobs under control then nothing is reported on. They came after Sargodha, Rawalpindi, and just yesterday Qasur. The attackers KEEP coming and the ENTIRE world is silent.
JOHN MASCARENHAS
it is truly sad that christians in pakistan are in the deep end. why do not the church leaders write to the un, usa, europe........where christians give monies to prop up a corrupt and biased govt? could the affected/effected christians take videos on their phones and display them on youtube? so the world sees first hand what is happening?
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