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.”