07/16/2010, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Christians flee violence by Islamic extremists in Faisalabad

Local mosque launches protest action against Christians in Waris Pura. Police and government prevent more incidents. Yesterday, flyers calling for mass action against Christians were handed out. A Catholic church was attacked with rocks and stones. An alleged case of blasphemy involving two Christian brothers is the cause of the latest episode of anti-Christian violence, which brings back memories of last year’s destruction in Korian and Gojra.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – A large number of Christians has fled Waris Pura, on the outskirts of Faisalabad, fearing violence, after Muslims launched a protest action that started at a local mosque after Friday prayers. The risk of attacks against Christians and their property is very high, a source in Faisalabad told AsiaNews, choosing anonymity for security reasons. Yesterday, hundreds of Islamic militants joined a protest march, calling for the death of two Christian brothers accused of blasphemy. During the procession, the mob stoned a Catholic church. An alleged booklet with offensive words about Prophet Muhammad is the reason for the rising tensions.

Contacted by AsiaNews, Fr Pascal Paulus, parish priest at Holy Rosary Catholic Church, said that “today’s demonstration was peaceful” and “went off without any incident.” This was made possible by “the government’s intervention” which “helped the dialogue with Muslim leaders”. The “massive presence of police” was also key in preventing acts of violence.

Fr Pascal noted that both Christians and Muslims want “Pakistan to prosper”. He insisted that all men of faith must “work for peace and dialogue;” nevertheless, he did confirm that “a climate of fear” prevails among Christians. Still, there is hope in lasting and peaceful coexistence.

Earlier, local Muslim leaders had called on Muslims to join en masse in today’s demonstration. Local sources told AsiaNews that “flyers were handed out at the mosque and door to door” with threats against Christians.

In Waris Pura, a suburb of Faisalabad (Punjab) and a former Christian ghetto with some 100,000 residents, tensions are in fact still running high. For this reason, “a large number of Christians fled”.

Tensions went further up yesterday when a similar protest march of hundreds of Islamic militants demanded the death of the two Christian brothers accused of blasphemy. As they went by Holy Rosary Catholic Church, they threw rocks and stones at the building. In previous days, additional attacks were recorded in the predominantly Christian neighbourhood.

At the root of the crisis is a blasphemy accusation levelled at Rev Rashid Emmanuel and his brother Sajid. The two were arrested on 2 July for allegedly writing insulting words against the prophet Muhammad. They have rejected the accusation but are now facing the death penalty.

Christians living in the area have fled because of past experiences. Mobs of Muslims, whipped up by their religious and tribal leaders, invoking the so-called blasphemy law, attacked and torched Korian and Gojra, two Christian villages in Punjab.

The brutal attack, which occurred between the end of July and 1 August 2009, left seven Christian dead, including women and children, as well as hundreds of homes and a few churches destroyed.

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