Punjab Christians urge government to visit their destroyed churches
The AsiaNews correspondent in Sangla Hill has gathered witness accounts and precise accusations from the Christian community there, which saw churches, convents and schools burned down and looted. "Blasphemy has nothing to do with it," they say. "It's all about persecution." Torture at the police headquarters was reported. (Photos were taken by our correspondent: the Christian community of Sangla Hill and their destroyed property).
Sangla Hill (AsiaNews) The Christian community of Sangla Hill has been subjected to a "terrible tragedy which the media do not cover, as if nothing has happened. We will not rebuild or clean our churches, convents or schools which were attacked, until either the Prime Minister or the President of Pakistan comes here to see in person the tragedy and the loss."
Fr Samson Dilawar, Sangla Hill parish priest told AsiaNews about the indifference towards the attacks perpetrated on 12 November against churches, convents and schools Catholic and Protestant by a crowd of around 2,000 people who were allegedly spurred by accusations of blasphemy leveled against a local Christian.
"We are calling on the government to end persecution against Yousaf Masih, accused of blasphemy, because it is clear that it's all due to a quarrel over money.
Saleem and Benedict Masih, Yousaf's younger brothers told AsiaNews: "Our brother has nothing to do with blasphemy, he is innocent; it's only a question of money. The Muslims have completely ransacked our houses and before the arrest of Yousaf they tortured and humiliated us at the police station." Yousaf Masih is 50 years, he is married with four children, two boys and two girls.
"These attacks are the work of well equipped militants not of an angry mob who operated with the complicity of local police. A mob of local people were incited by someone and they turned up on Friday night to attack the church but they soon left without destroying anything. Those involved in the events on Saturday night were different people.
"We have some Muslim teachers in our school also and we are very sure that they are also involved in this attack because Islamic books in our school were not damaged and only those teachers were familiar with where the books were and with the layout of the school.
"In this way, they are trying to teach us that only Islamic books and the Quran are holy and no book of any other religion is respectable to them."
Stephen Martin, a Christian and former general councillor said that when the saga started, there were "only a few papers of the Quran burnt" but now there are "big bundles burnt there which they burnt themselves to show the other people". Emmanuel Ather Julius, member of the local district council said that while the churches and property of Christians was burning, the crowd "sang and shouted slogans as is they were doing some sort of great job and were enjoying it a lot."
The Franciscan sisters who run St Anthony's High School, which was completely destroyed by the crowd, told AsiaNews that "they have no words to express their deep sorrow and great misery". "We gave our lives for these people and this is how they repay us. But our mission will not be stopped and soon we shall start teaching children again."
A Christian who preferred to remain anonymous said that the key figure behind the assault was Malik Muhammad Azim, the nazim (head) of the local council: the mosques which incited the crowd to anti-Christian violence on Friday evening invited the people to rally outside the Madni Palace, a building owned by the nazim, and many assailants actually arrived from further afield in three buses.
Khalil Tahir, a Christian lawyer, told AsiaNews: "We will take this tragedy to international level and to the United Nations so they will be able to see how Christians are living in Pakistan and they can force Pakistan to repeal the blasphemy laws which is a root cause for such types of incidents." Saqib Sohail Batti, local general councillor, said: "We have no problem with the people the police arrested. The people who are truly responsible are still free, and the local police know those people very well."
Hanook, who works in the administration of the Presbyterian church said all he wanted from the government was "only respect, the right to live in peace and security for Pakistani Christians. We do not want money or anything else."