10/06/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Christians in Gojra refuse aid from US Consulate in Lahore, demand repeal of blasphemy law

by Fareed Khan
Protests and scuffle break out during ceremony in which victims of last August’s massacre were to receive aid packages. For the President of Human Rights Focus Pakistan, Christians lost faith in the government and want the United State to put pressure on Islamabad to bring justice.
Gojra (AsiaNews) – Gojra Christians staged a noisy protest at a ceremony in which officials from the US Consulate in Lahore were handing out relief packages. Many intended beneficiaries refused to accept the aid offered by Carmella Conroy, principal officer at the US Consulate in Lahore, in protest against the failure by Pakistani police to arrest the Muslim extremists who carried out the massacre of seven Christians last August.

Ms Conroy was set to hand out aid to 150 Christians in a ceremony held at the small Catholic church in Gojra. But the first recipient, Shabaz Hameed, refused the package, demanding instead justice for the victims of the massacre in which his family was burnt alive.

Hameed called for immediate action against those who carried out the attack; their names appear in the original report (First Information Report) filed with police after the violent incident.

Other Christians did the same and turned down the aid offered by the US Consulate.

The situation eventually degenerated into a scuffle as a number of people began shouting slogans against the Pakistani police, others against US policy vis-à-vis Pakistan, and some began throwing the packages against the stage where Ms Conroy was sitting.

After calm was re-established, the US consular official said that the relief goods were part of a message of harmony and peace to them from the United States.

In response, Gojra Christians called on the US official to get Washington to put pressures on Pakistani authorities in Islamabad to bring justice in their case.

Naveed Walter, chairman of Human Rights Focus Pakistan (HRFP), welcomed the Christians’ position, reiterating the need to abolish the blasphemy law, which Muslim extremists used in Gojra as a pretext to attack and kill Christians. “In their agitation,” Christians have shown “no trust in the [Pakistani] government,” he said.

Naveed noted that Christians were also angered by the government’s decision to give a million rupees (US$ 12,000) in compensation to the family of Muhammad Asif, a Muslim man who died during the attack on Christians in Gojra.

The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a human rights organisation of the Catholic Church of Pakistan, recently reported that since 2001, about 50 Christians were killed in attacks against Christian places of worship or other Church institutions after accusations of blasphemy were levelled against them.

Christians are not alone in this; other religious minorities have also been targeted for violent action by Muslim extremists.

Representatives of the Ahmadi community, a Muslim group considered heretical by both Sunni and Shia Muslims, have reported that 12 of their co-religionists have been killed in 2009.

Since 1984, 107 Ahmadi have been killed and 719 arrested on blasphemy charges.

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