Lahore (AsiaNews) Mgr Lawrence Saldanha told AsiaNews that yesterday's symbolic hunger strike was meant as a protest against the government's cold shoulder towards Sangla Hill, the Pakistani village attacked by Muslim extremists on November 12, as well as an initiative in favour of inter-faith harmony in the country.
Many Christian and Muslim human rights organisations joined the rally organised by the National Commission for Justice and Peace. Archbishop Saldanha, who heads the diocese of Lahore, is its chairman.
"The year 2005 was not a good year for [. . .] religious minorities in Pakistan," he said. "But we are hopeful that 2006 will be better. We shall keep praying and fighting for a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan."
All those who spoke at the hunger strike gathering called for an end to widespread religious intolerance.
Participants at the event said that Sangla Hill Christians and Muslims want to live in peace, but that they are victims of government inaction and of its failure to properly deal with the issue.
After 50 days, the authorities have in fact failed to shed light on the attack that left in ruin churches and properties owned by Christians, whilst unjustly holding many people in jail.
After expressing "deep concern", the promoters of the initiative brought the rally to an end reiterating their demands and highlighting the government's shortcomings:
· Yousaf Masih, charged with desecrating the Qu'ran, is still being detained in violation of Section 156-a of the Criminal Procedure Code which requires that a senior superintendent of police conduct an investigation before someone can be charged under the Blasphemy Laws. This did not happen in Masih's case. The alleged blasphemy is said to have taken place on November 11 and was the spark that led to the attack against the village.
· A total of 86 Muslims were arrested for torching three churches, two schools and various Christian homes, but their detention has caused ongoing tensions with the families of the detainees demanding their release.
· There is no money to rebuild churches, schools and other buildings seriously damaged by the attack.
· Local authorities and law enforcement agencies have so far failed to take proper action to protect local Christians who have been threatened and intimidated.
The groups that took part in yesterday's peaceful protest demand:
· All facts relating to the district investigation into the Sangla Hill affair, which ended last November 28, should be made public.
· The inquiry should be put on a fast-track so that real culprits can be brought to justice; any delay will only encourage those who want to use religion to impose a reign of terror.
· All those who are innocent, including Masih, should be freed.
· It is time to abolish the ill drafted, ambiguous and faulty blasphemy laws.