12/22/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Fanaticism will destroy country, Christian leaders warn Musharraf

This is the second time since the Sangla Hill attack that Christian leaders have called for the abrogation of the blasphemy law and for an end to religious fundamentalism.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Sangla Hill case "must be treated like an example, to give a strong message to fanatics and terrorists who with their actions endanger the very existence of Pakistan".

This was thrust of a letter sent by Pakistani Christian leaders to President Musharraf on 20 December. The message was signed by the Archbishop of Lahore and president of the Bishops' Conference, Mgr Lawrence Saldanha, by Reverend Alexander J. Malik, moderator of Protestant churches and by Victor Azariah, secretary-general of the National Council of Pakistan Churches.

The 12 November attack is "deplorable" and the religious leaders "lamented the fact that it was instigated by violent speeches which are still being made, and that the true instigators are free."

We reproduce the full text of the letter below:

His Excellency, General Parvez Musharraf, President of Pakistan,

Your Excellency,

Once again, we the religious leaders of the Christian Community of Pakistan would like to convey to you some urgent concerns arising from the deplorable incident of Sangla Hill on Nov 12,2005 when a mob of extremists attacked and destroyed three churches, two pastors' houses, one convent of nuns, a girls hostel and two schools. It is regrettable that they were instigated by certain leaders and the law enforcing agencies failed in their duty to stop them.

We submitted a joint memorandum, dated 14 Nov 2005, to Your Excellency describing the incident and calling for strong and affirmative action against the culprits who took the law into their own hands on an unproven allegation. Unfortunately, we did not receive an acknowledgement or statement from you.

We are grateful that the Chief Minister of Punjab, Ch. Parvez Elahi, together with some federal ministers, responded to our appeal and visited the site and promised to punish the culprits and make complete compensation. We appreciate that the repairs on the Catholic Church and pastor's house are proceeding quite satisfactorily.

But the whole Christian community in Pakistan still feels very disturbed, fearful and insecure and some strong measures still need to be taken to reassure them, which we list below:

  1. While over 80 of the perpetrators have been arrested, the real instigators are still at large and need to be apprehended.  We are worried that there is still tension in the area because inflammatory speeches, in blatant violation of the Amplifier Act, continue to be made by certain extremist groups demanding the release of those arrested.

 

  1. We welcome the fact that a judicial inquiry, ordered by the Chief Minister, has been completed by a sessions judge on Nov 28,2005. However, we as church leaders and our respective action committee should be taken into confidence regarding the findings of the inquiry and a copy of the inquiry report should immediately be made available to us. We expect as a result of this inquiry that the real culprits would be exposed and duly punished and the unjustly detained would be set free.
  2. It is quite evident that the root cause of the violent reaction and destruction was the abuse of the discriminatory laws of PPC, namely, 295 B & C, 298 – A, B, C.  The recent amendments have proved once again to be futile and totally ineffectual. Therefore we once again respectfully but emphatically call for the total repeal of the Blasphemy Laws.
  3. We would request and urge that a long–term strategy should be worked out that would help to eliminate such lawless incidents in the future and provide adequate protection to our people, especially those living in small and defenseless communities. We are doing all in our power to bring the situation back to normal.
  4. We are deeply worried and concerned about the growing spirit of fanaticism and religious extremism. Allowed beyond a certain point, fanaticism will become lethal madness that will threaten the very existence of Pakistan. That is why every effort must be made to curb the surge of religious intolerance. Treating Sangla Hill as a test case would send a strong message to the instigators of terrorist violence in the future.

We hope you will redress these genuine concerns of Pakistani society in general and religious minorities in particular and for our part we assure you that we Christians will continue to play our part for the peace, well-being and progress of our homeland, Pakistan.  We pray for your safety and welfare.

With respectful good wishes

(signatures follow)

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