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    » 04/10/2007, 00.00

    PAKISTAN

    A truly Passion-like Easter in Toba Tek Singh

    Qaiser Felix

    Local Christians celebrate Holy Week with faith and religious fervour despite violent attacks against the community and false blasphemy charges against some of its members. A brother of one of the alleged blasphemers is arrested without charges.

    Toba Tek Singh (AsiaNews) – Hurt by false charges of blasphemy levelled by some Muslim extremists against some of its co-religionists, Pakistan’s Christians experienced a  Passion-like Easter this year, especially the residents of Toba Tek Singh, “whose suffering and faith could be seen in their faces,” this according to Fr Bonnie Mendes, director of the Human Development Centre (HDC), a local Catholic NGO, who talked to AsiaNews about Easter celebrations in one of the country’s Catholic communities most affected by the growing threat of Islamic extremism.

    “The atmosphere is particularly tense in Toba Tek Singh village,” Father Mendes said. “Just last week, after five people were charged under the blasphemy law [one arrested, four in hiding], Shaukat Masih, the brother of the one who was arrested was also detained without charges. For the family this is an act of intimidation to force local Christians to hand the other alleged blasphemers over to the authorities.”

    “Shaukat is not even named in the report filed by police. It is not possible for them to act like this. [By contrast,] we have pressed charges against a mob that attacked our property and nothing has been for us,” said Atif Jamil, HDC deputy director.

    Beside the blasphemy charges Toba Tek Singh Christians were also victims of a violent attack. This “happened during Holy Week,” Jamil said. “Everyone wants respect for their religion but no one showed any respect for our community during one of the holiest times in Christianity.” And yet “despite our community’s fear, we participated with fervour to Holy Week masses. The police patrolled the churches during Easter and this in some ways helped us.”

    Father Mendes explained that Easter “is a time of suffering but also of great joy, quite appropriate for what we are going through. It is a time to remember the Passion and Death of Christ, but also a time followed by the resurrection. Here in Toba Tek Singh we can see the face of our suffering Saviour, but let us hope that we, too, can celebrate our own resurrection.”

    Disinformation largely surrounds the blasphemy question. “In the Sangla Hill case [where a Muslim mob was incited by false blasphemy charges to attack and destroy a Christian village], local media focus on alleged blasphemers who desecrated the Qur’an but they never talk about attacks against us,” said the priest.

    In a press release, Shahbaz Bhatti, head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, lamented that the blasphemy law has “become a tool to settle personal scores. The problem is that the law is being used by truly extremist gangs who use it as a blunt instrument to persecute Christians and other Pakistani minorities. It should be removed from the Penal Code.”

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    See also

    15/11/2005 PAKISTAN
    Christian leaders urge Pakistan president to repeal blasphemy law

    The Christian community has called a protest strike on 17 November in the wake of violence and destruction of churches and Christian places in Sangla Hill. The public security forces are under fire for their alleged inefficiency.



    16/11/2005 PAKISTAN
    Punjab Christians urge government to visit their destroyed churches

    The AsiaNews correspondent in Sangla Hill has gathered witness accounts and precise accusations from the Christian community there, which saw churches, convents and schools burned down and looted. "Blasphemy has nothing to do with it," they say. "It's all about persecution." Torture at the police headquarters was reported. (Photos were taken by our correspondent: the Christian community of Sangla Hill and their destroyed property).



    09/01/2006 PAKISTAN
    "Government must intervene as blasphemy laws split country"

    The Justice and Peace Commission is calling for the "abrogation of discriminatory laws" and "decisive government action". "All delays encourage extremists to divide the country in the name of religion".



    16/12/2005 PAKISTAN
    Sangla Hill prepares for Christmas in Catholic Church destroyed by Muslims

    The community is repairing the building which was attacked, to be able to celebrate Christmas there. But inter-faith tension remains high. 20 December has been earmarked as a day given over to solidarity for Christians in the affected village. The Archbishop of Lahore: if the government does not abrogate the blasphemy law, we will ask for compensation for innocent people who were condemned.  



    24/11/2005 PAKISTAN
    Archbishop of Canterbury: "Musharraf should review blasphemy law"

    During his Pakistan visit, the Anglican leader has called on the government to rethink the blasphemy law after the attacks on the Christian community at Sangla Hill.





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