03/19/2018, 15.52
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Catholics to work with police as Easter security threat level raised

by Kamran Chaudhry

Special steps are announced for Easter celebrations. Police will train volunteers before Good Friday. The Church has long called for the implementation of a court ruling to train special police task force to protect Catholic places of worship.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Volunteers from the Pakistani Church are working with Pakistani police to develop special security measures to prevent attacks against the Catholic community at Easter.

Speaking at the end of Sunday Mass, yesterday, at Lahore’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, catechist Sarfraz Victor told worshippers to “be on alert. Consider yourselves like security staff, protect yourselves and others, be friendly and work together with [police] agents."

This announcement comes a few days after a cathedral security team met with Punjab police to discuss the protection of the city's churches following a suicide attack that killed 11 people, including six policemen, in Raiwind, a city close to Lahore, on 14 March.

The latter is not an isolated incident. Last year, the authorities arrested 19-year-old Noreen Leghari who was planning a suicide attack on a church in Lahore during Easter. She was later released.

On 27 March 2016, Easter Sunday, 78 people died and more than 340 were wounded in an attack that hit one of Lahore's largest parks.

William Arif Khan, who heads 25 security volunteers at Sacred Heart Cathedral, said that extraordinary measures will be taken this year.

"No visitor will be allowed in without a national identity card,” Khan said. “Action will be taken against any parishioner who brings a non-Christian to church Mass. Use of smartphone /social media will be prohibited inside Church premises.”

An “Elite police force will be visiting churches this Easter," he told AsiaNews adding that his team will be trained by police before Good Friday.

In fact, “Volunteers with licensed weapons are already armed during Masses. But those without a license cannot do much in capturing an infiltrating terrorist. We have asked police to issue license for arms to protect churches."

For their part, Church leaders have long called for the implementation of a 2014 ruling by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which provides for the establishment of a National Council on the Rights of Minorities and the creation of a special police task force to protect their places of worship.

Last Friday, about 70 Church representatives met with Islamabad Police Inspector General Azam Taimoori (pictured) to discuss the security situation.

The "Punjab government has yet to implement SOPs, standard operation procedures, including installation of walk-through gates and posting of snipers in Churches. We shall file a contempt case if they continue ignoring the apex court verdict," said Samuel Pyara, head of the Implementation Minority Rights Forum (IMRF).

"A major concern of Islamabad churches is the irregularity of police [agents]. Most were busy on their mobile phones while on duty to protect worshipers. Also Church buildings were exempted from safe city project under which security cameras were installed in Islamabad."

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