11/02/2018, 12.54
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As protests over Asia Bibi’s release continue, Masses for All Souls have been cancelled

by Kamran Chaudhry

Streets in Pakistan’s main cities are still blocked, telephone services are still suspended. Islamic radicals are also protesting against the government for defencing the Christian woman’s acquittal. Christian pastor calls on the faithful to avoid spreading fake news.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Pakistan’s Catholic dioceses have cancelled Masses celebrating on All Souls, fearful of violent protests unleashed across the country by Islamic radicals who oppose the release of Asia Bibi, the Catholic woman on death row for blasphemy who was acquitted by the country’s Supreme Court.

"The Mass scheduled in the Christian graveyard was cancelled and celebrated instead inside the church,” said Fr Nasir William, parish priest at St Francis Catholic Church Xavier in Sargodha, Punjab, speaking to AsiaNews.

“Hopefully, Catholic schools can reopen next week,” he noted after the Diocese of Lahore decided to keep Catholic schools closed to prevent attacks on children and teachers. He also slammed the suspension of telephone lines in several cities.

"Life has become hell for ordinary people living near the capital Islamabad,” he explained. “All major intersections have been occupied by angry protesters. The situation is dangerous today because of Friday’s sermons” in mosques.

"Winter is the season of weddings,” he explained, “and about 40 are scheduled in our church alone. Mobile phones have been suspended. This is creating problems for families."

Today, Christians are holding a day of prayer and fasting, whilst the government has deployed additional agents to protect churches.

Christian buildings have been closed around Mall Road in Lahore, where protests by the extremist group Tehreek-e-Labaik, the party that promised to kill the justices who freed Asia Bibi, are concentrated.

Meanwhile protests against the government continue after the latter defended the Supreme Court’s sentence. According to media reports, at least 300 vehicles have been torched in various cities.

For his part, Imam Qari Muhammad Saalam filed a review petition against the Supreme Court’s verdict and asked that Asia Bibi’s name be included on the Exit Control List until his request is processed.

Rev Amjad Niamat, coordinator of the Pakistan Christian Action Committee, urges Christians not to spread the false news that have appeared on social media.

“Some people are sharing a fake helpline allegedly set up by Supreme Court. Others say a special law has been passed against attacks on Christian localities. Please confirm before you share anything,” he said.

“Christians should remain vigilant. Report any suspicious person in your locality to the concerned police station. May God protect His people from bullets and batons and end the atmosphere of fear.”

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