03/03/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Punjab: Christians fear more massacres after churches and tombs are desecrated

Kot Addu’s Christian community is facing more wrongdoings by local landlords who grabbed Christian-owned fields and shops with the complicity of local police and officials. Christian symbols are desecrated but the blasphemy law is not applied in this case. Local authorities say accusations are all made up but fail to provide legal backing for grabbing Christian property.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – “I have worked all my life to buy this property. My ancestors are buried in the graveyard. I am an old man now with four four daughters. I had planned to save this property for their marriage,” said Boota Masih, as he lamented Christian powerlessness against local landlords grabbing Christian-owned land and property with the complicity of local administrators and police. His woes come as tensions rise the wake of Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder. If the authorities do not act, security forces warn, a tragedy like Gojra could happen again.

Kot Addu is a city in Muzaffargarh district, southern Punjab. A fresh wave of anti-Christian violence has swept over it. Last year, Christians suffered discrimination when aid was handed out to flood victims. In July 2009, a Christian man, Anwar Masih, was charged with blasphemy based on false accusations. When his family agreed to give a local Muslim lawmaker their property, they were dropped.

In recent days, Christians have had to endure even more abuse. Landowners in Kot Addu have grabbed Christian-owned stores and fields as well as a Christian cemetery. With the backing of local lawmakers and administrators, they threatened local Christians, desecrated Bibles and crosses in a local church and destroyed 150 tombs.

Local Christian leaders tried to file a case against the attackers at the Jaggi Moor Police station but got nowhere. Station House Officer Zubair Khalid drafted a First Information Report, but failed to include crucial details, thus allowing the culprits to walk free.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Boota Masih, one of the victims of local potentates, said that the local police refused to hear his complaint. Instead, they accused “Christians of illegally occupying the land on which they built their church and cemetery.”

Another Christian, Ghani Masih, noted that even though the attackers “desecrated Bibles, crosses and tombs,” the complaint against them was registered under Section 297 of the Pakistan Penal Code rather than Sections 295- and 295-B, which involve blasphemy.

Tensions have reached a critical point and many people fear outbreaks of large-scale violence like in Gojra, where thousands of extremists attacked Christian residents in August 2009 (pictured), burning eight people alive.

Last January’s murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and yesterday’s execution-style assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti have made the situation worse for Christians, who now fear more than ever blasphemy-related attacks.

A Christian representative from the minority wing of Pakistan People’s Party visited Kot Addu. He promised that action would be taken in support of Kot Addu Christians.

When contacted by AsiaNews, the district coordination officer for the area refused any comment.

Similarly, a local district police officer denied that anything untoward had actually happened. Instead, he said that the local Christian community made the whole thing up in order to stir up trouble.

When asked about Anwar Masih, who was forced to hand over his property under duress to have false charges dropped, the officer refused to comment. (JK)

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