09/08/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Gojra: Muslim leaders make false accusations, Christians demand justice

by Fareed Khan
A Muslim association blames three Catholic priests and a layman for the violence in Gojra. The Punjab government stops paying out the compensation it had initially allocated for victims. The Christian community wants the blasphemy law repealed and the guilty punished.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – A month since anti-Christian violence broke out in Gojra and Koriyan (Punjab), the local community is waiting for justice. It is still receiving threats from Muslim leaders who are fanning the flames of confessional hatred, making false accusations against local priests.

Since this all started, Pakistani police have laid charges against a number of Christians, many of whom are still living in tents after their homes were set on fire, whilst the local administration has stopped paying out compensation to affected Christians. Muslim extremists have instead called for the release without trial of those responsible of the slaughter of Christians, trying again to use the blasphemy law against the country’s religious minorities.

Everything began on 30 July when thousands of Muslim fundamentalists descended upon the village of Koriyan where they set 51 Christian homes on fire. Two days later, on 1 August, at least 3,000 extremists went after the Christian community in Gojra, burning seven people to death (including two children and three women), and injuring another 19 whilst torching about a hundred homes. A number of video clips taped during the attack made their way onto YouTube, showing the extent of the violence inflicted upon Christians.

Fr Aftab James Paul, director of the Diocesan Commission for Interfaith Dialogue of Faisalabad, reports that a Muslim organisation has now come up with accusations that he and two other priests as well as a lay Christian are the “true culprits” of the violence.

The Muslim Mahaz Tanzeem for Peace, a Muslim association based in Gojra, has charged that Fr Shabir Bashir, Fr Khalid Rashid, Fr Aftab James Paul and Samuel Qumer gave weapons to Naveed Masih, a young Christian man, who opened fire on Muslims, setting off the violence.

The association wants all four “guilty” Christians arrested; otherwise the administration should consider itself “responsible” for any other wave of violence.

A few days ago the local district coordination officer stopped compensation payments which the provincial government had allocated to victims, the Royal TV Channel reported, provoking protests by Christians.

In the meantime in Gojra Muslim leaders have continued to rally the population, calling for street demonstrations in favour of the release without trial of those who caused the violence.

The tensions and climate of hatred that have developed are feeding a sense of despair, impotence and mistrust among Christians who demand police protection and a decisive action from the government.

The day after the violence, Punjab’s chief minister set up a commission of inquiry chaired by a judge of the Lahore High Court, which heard 500 witnesses.

A report by the police of the Faisalabad district described the incidents in Gojra and Koriyan as “acts of terrorism” by Islamic militants.

However, extremists have not let up in their offensive as local police continue to try to pin the blame on Christians.

Atif Jamil, head of a local NGO, wants the blasphemy law repealed and an immediate end to anti-Christian violence carried out in its name.

Culprits, he said, should be brought to justice and victims compensated and protected.

The country’s political parties should condemn all local leaders who have allowed hatred to split the local community along confessional lines in Gojra and the district of Toba Tek Singh.

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