09/12/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Punjab, Muslim extremists burn church over alleged blasphemy case

by Fareed Khan
The call to hunt Christians launched at local mosque after the Friday prayers. The mob stormed and set fire to the church, ransacked two houses. Muslims accuse a young Christian had desecrated the Koran. In reality the young man is involved with a Muslim girl.

Sialkot (AsiaNews) - A church burnt by a mob of angry Muslims, who attacked Christians for a new - alleged - case of blasphemy. This is what happened yesterday afternoon in a village in Punjab, Pakistan, where the Christian community was targeted by Islamic extremists.

"The extremists were protesting against the desecration of the Quran by a young Christian from the village" Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the Catholic Churches National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) refers to AsiaNews, "that is why they set fire to the church". The priest, who heard the eye witness accounts of the inhabitants, adds that "the place of worship is used by Catholics and Protestants".  

NCJP sources report that yesterday, at about 12:30 local time, a Muslim mob gathered round the village church in Jaithikey, not far from the city of Samberial in the district of Sialkot (Punjab). They first damaged the building, then set it on fire. The extremists also looted two houses adjoining the church.

According to preliminary reports, the real cause of tension is a relationship between a twenty year old Christian, whose name is Fanish, and a Muslim girl. The young man was accused of having "provoked" the girl and "throwing away the Koran [the girl] had in her hands".  

"Muslims can not tolerate a Muslim girl falling in love with a Christian," says father Mani, confirming the news of the young man’s arrest this morning by police officers. "The authorities - adds the priest – will not allow access to journalists, to verify the events firsthand".

A statement released by NCJP explains that "The tense situation precipitated following the end of Friday prayers," when a call to action "to give a lesson to the Christians" was launched from the mosque.  Following the announcement, at least 35 families left the village for security reasons; others decided to remain in their homes anyway.  

The police reached the village, while the crowd of Muslims gathered, wiping themselves up into a frenzy over the  - alleged - case of desecration of the Koran. In the evening, the extremists were driven from the homes of Christian villagers, but hundreds remained in the area, under police surveillance.

Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, NCJP national director, Kamran Michael, the Provincial Minister for Human Rights and Minorities and Nelson Azeem, a member of the National Assembly (the parliament of Pakistan) arrived in Samerial and, in close contact with local government and police, are following the evolution of events.  

After the attack on Gojra in early August, in which seven people were killed, there is a real risk of a new massacre against the Christian community in the name of the blasphemy law.

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