12/05/2005, 00.00
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Muslim extremists want to eliminate Christians from Sangla Hill

by Peter Jacob

In Friday prayers calls are made for the hanging of Yousaf Masih, a Christian accused of blasphemy.  The archbishop of Lahore writes to the governor Punjab describing an increasing tense situation as Christmas approaches.

Sangla Hill (AsiaNews) – In a letter to the governor of Punjab, Mgr Lawrence Saldanha, archbishop of Lahore, deplored the fact that some Muslim religious circles continue feeding Muslim hatred of Christians in Sangla Hill. The note, which was sent last Saturday, called the situation in the village "worrisome", especially now that Christmas is fast approaching.

On December 2, the leaders of some Islamic religious groups gathered at the Jamia Masjid Rizvia (mosque) for Friday prayers reaffirmed their condemnation of Yousaf Masih, a Christian man they say is guilty of desecrating the Qu'ran, and called for him to be publicly hanged.

The outrage he is alleged to have committed provoked attacks on November 12 against churches and the property of Christians in Sangla Hill.

Those gathered for Friday prayers called on the police to unconditionally release the 88 Muslims detained in relation to the violence in the village.

Among the leaders who spoke at the gathering, there were  Pir Mohammad Afzal Qadiri Markazi Ameer Alam-e-Tanzeem Alah-e-Sunnat, Shahibzada Mohammad Zia Marzaki Nazim-e-Ala Alah-e- Sunnat Shahibzada Haji Fazal Kareem, Mohammad Yousaf Qadiri Zil-e-Nazim (district administrator in Hafizabad), Pir Mohammad Lateef Zil-e-Amer  Alah-e- Sunnat Sheikhpura, Mohammad Yaqoop Zil-e-Ameer Faislabad, and Sheikh Mohammad Saleem Minhaj-ul-Quran.

They urged Muslims to unite for the honour and integrity of Islam, and eliminate Christians.

Following the prayers, the police allowed the worshippers to leave the mosque in small groups.

In light of the situation, local Christians dare not leave home out of fear; many in fact have received threats.

For this reason, on Saturday Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha wrote to the governor of Punjab to inform him that the situation in Sangla Hill remains worrisome. In his letter, the archbishop laments the fact that some religious groups are sowing hatred between communities.

"In the last week the press has reported provocative statements by organisations like Lahore's Majlis-e-Khatm-e-Naubuat and Madrasa Naeemia that give impression that the attacks against Christians in Sangla Hill were planned," he said in the note.

The prelate complains that whilst "the judicial inquiry has not yet been completed, they [the Muslim religious leaders] take it for granted that Yousaf Masih is guilty."
Addressing the governor directly, Archbishop Saldanha said he was hopeful that he [the governor] would agree that such statements might have "serious repercussions" on an already tense situation.

In the letter Archbishop Saldanha demands the culprits be found because "to arrest the innocent is counterproductive", and urges the administration to work towards inter-communal reconciliation by providing accurate information about what happened as well as release the results of the investigation as soon as possible.

An effort should be made to counter any risk that the conflict spill-over into the districts of Nankana and Sheikhpura, which are especially at risk as Christmas approaches, he explained.

Finally, he reiterated that it was urgent to abolish blasphemy legislation.

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