12/07/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Islamic extremism against Pakistani Christians

by Peter Jacob

There is no let-up in anti-Catholic violence. A press conference by Christian organizations will look at episodes inspired by religious hatred across the country.

Sangla Hill (AsiaNews) – Christians in Pakistan are gearing themselves to counter growing religious intolerance in the country, in the wake of attacks against churches and Christian homes in Sangla Hill.

The National Justice and Peace Commission held a consultation meeting with several Christian groups in a bid to confront the threats posed by Islamic extremism.

A joint press release said "the district of Nankana is simmering with hate speech against Christian minority but the government has done nothing to defuse the tension despite repeated reminders by community leaders. The present government is failing to repair the situation because it is not admitting to the facts; rather it is protecting the instigators of mob violence."

Church leaders and representatives of civil society have called on the government to take decisive action. Signatories of the press release said the authorities are to blame also because they hide the consequences of the blasphemy law from the Pakistani people.  The press release called once again for the abrogation of the law, held to be "a Damocles sword" for all religious minorities in the country. Turning to the government, the organizations urged that "the findings of the Judicial Inquiry be made public immediately and that all innocent persons (accused of blasphemy) including Yousuf Masih, who was clearly victimized due to his religion, be released." Masih is held guilty of having desecrated the Koran: this presumed case of blasphemy was the spark which ignited the 12 November attacks against Christian churches and property in the Punjab village.

Participants at the meeting, which took place in Lahore, also announced the launch of a "mass movement to inform the people of Pakistan about the alarming conditions of intolerance and violence due to religious discrimination in the country". Signatories of the agreement other than the National Justice and Peace Commission, are: Commission for Peace and Human Development, Centre of Legal Assistance and Settlement, All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, Christian Study Centre- Rawalpindi, Justice and Peace Commission - Multan. Tomorrow, 8 December, the Christian organizations will hold a joint press conference in Islamabad, to highlight incidents sparked by religious hatred and to study their causes.

After Sangla Hill, several cases of anti-Christian violence were recorded. On 1 December, 8 boys and 4 girls attending a school run by Seventh Day Adventist Church in Multan Road, Lahore were subjected to a severe beating by some Muslim youth. According to the school administration, one girl, Chanda Munir, became unconscious at the spot. A few days later, the church received an anonymous phone call which was immediately reported to the Cheung police.

Another incident in Lahore involved an attack on a residence of Catholic priests, who were beaten. The priests reported the attack by unknown assailants to the police but no arrest has been made so far. Security guards have been deployed at the priests' residence.

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