Women flee for fear of attack, two Christians killed, more protests expected
Tension continues to spread in eastern Punjab province where police struggled to control a mob attempting to raid a Full Gospel Assembly church in Lahore.
Two separate mobs headed to the Christian slum on March 22 after different mosques announced that the “church members deliberately burnt the Qur’an transcript in garbage on a US pattern.”Chanting anti-government and pro-Islamic slogans, they burned tyres before the Church authorities called police to disperse the crowd.
The latest clashes follow an incident on March 20 when a US pastor, Terry Jones, oversaw the burning of a Qur’an in a Florida church. A mock “trial” was conducted in the church which found the Qur’an guilty of crimes against humanity.
Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari has condemned the act and Islamic groups have announced a countrywide protest to take place on March 25.
In Lahore, ash still covers the road fronting the double story building, with the Church and the pastor’s house, located in an alley. Two policemen now guard its gate, which is topped with barbed wire. Most of the 250 Christian families in the slum have sent their daughters to relatives for fear of further violence.
“I was taking my daughter to school when I saw a small group searching for something in the garbage. Later, hundreds arrived shouting to burn and demolish the Church”, described Irshad Shaheen, the choir leader.
The authorities have formed a local investigation committee composed of Church members, local traders and politicians. “We have assured police of our support against blasphemous desecration. The hardliners cannot reach Jones but we are an easy target”, Shaheen added.
Father Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said it is unacceptable to burn anyone’s holy book.
People should resist carrying out acts which hurt the religious sentiments of others and instead develop mutual respect, he said.
In addition to Christians, other religions have condemned the act. “No Muslim will tolerate such disrespect to the holy Qur’an,” Muslim leader Ahmad Bukhari said.
Swamy Agnivesh, a Hindu reformist, said the extremists are doing exactly the opposite to what the holy books preach.
People should work towards defeating the plans of such extremists, he said.
Jamat-ud dawah, a banned Islamic organization, has announced a reward for anyone who kills Jones. Father Joseph said this kind of retaliatory action will only lead to further hostility.
“Extremism in any form should be rejected,’ he added.
Banners stating “Christians respect all divine books” and “Pakistani Christians, together with our Muslim siblings, condemn Qur’an burning” have been erected in Churches around Pakistan.
In Hyderabad, hundreds of Christians staged a night-long protest on March 22 after two Christians, aged 24 and 45 were shot dead and two more injured in front of a Salvation Army Church. Vicar General Father Samson Shukardin and another priest led the demonstration in front of the central jail.
The protestors placed the dead bodies on road and demanded the arrest of the culprits and justice for the families. The post-mortem was conducted during the protest which continued till 5:30 am.
The incident had at its background a brawl between Christians and Muslims one day earlier, which resulted in the deaths of the pair. Three Muslims have been arrested so far.
“Violence against minorities is increasing after the Qur’an burning; this is very dangerous. The effects of Jones’ doing are now showing up. The reaction is expected to be strongest after Friday prayers”, said Father Shukardin, Diocesan Director of Catholic Bishop’s National Commission for Justice and Peace.