Pakistan: Mob Assaults Christians with Axes, Guns

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Police slow to register case; Muslim extremists pressure doctors to under-report injuries.

ISTANBUL, June 20 (Compass Direct News) -- Christian families fled a Pakistani village in Punjab province this week after an armed mob injured Protestants preparing for an evangelistic meeting, the victims’ lawyer said.

Seven Christians were injured when at least 41 Muslim men armed with guns, axes and wooden sticks attacked a Salvation Army church in Chak 248 north of Faisalabad on Sunday night (June 17), lawyer Khalil Tahir Sindhu said.

The Christians’ refusal to give in to demands that they cancel the evangelistic meeting prompted the attack, Sindhu said.

Armed Muslims had stormed the home of Christian Sawar Masih on June 16, injuring his teenage son, Shahbaz, and daughter, Robeela. They warned Masih, a member of the Human Life Association that was organizing the outreach, to cancel the evangelistic meeting scheduled for the following day at 6 p.m.

“They had just put up posters advertising the event two or three days before, so this is what triggered the attack,” Sindhu told Compass from Faisalabad.

Emboldened by the fact that they had obtained written permission from local union council head, Badir Munir, to mount a loudspeaker that would broadcast the sermon, the Christians continued with their plans to stage the event. Believers were already at the church carrying out preparations when the mob attacked at 5 p.m. on Sunday evening.

According to Sindhu, the mob used axes and wooden sticks to assault the Christians and desecrate the church, firing pistols into the air to cause panic. He said that many of the church books were ruined and that seven Christians suffered from bruises and fractured bones. In some cases, the bones were exposed.

“Some of the injuries were caused by being hit with the blunt side of an axe, while others were caused by the weapon’s sharp side,” Sindhu said.

The lawyer said that Christians had fought back against the attackers outside the church, and that one Muslim had allegedly been injured.

He said that Muslims from Chak 248 had also registered a First Information Report (FIR) yesterday against four Christian men whom they claimed had started the fighting.

In the FIR, Chak 248 resident Abdel Ghafoor claimed that four Christians had thrown trash at the home of Muslim Abdel Hammad, attacking and injuring him when he protested.

Police Drag Feet

Police initially refused to file a case against the mob, lodging an FIR only yesterday evening after Sindhu and 50 Christians from the village lobbied the district inspector general.

“They finally registered a case because they knew that it would get bad attention if they didn’t,” Sindhu told Compass today.

National English-language daily Dawn reported yesterday that the injured Christians had allegedly been forced out of Allied Hospital in Faisalabad, only hours after arriving for treatment on Sunday night (June 17).

But Sindhu said the injured victims had received medical examinations at Dijkot hospital. The real problem, he said, was that doctors came under pressure from the Muslim attackers to under-report the Christians’ wounds.

“Five of the medical certificates are incorrect, including the certificate of Shahbaz Masih, because it fails to mention his fractured bones,” Sindhu said.

The lawyer plans to submit a petition tomorrow for Faisalabad district and sessions judge Muhammad Yusuf to order a second medical examination to correct the mistakes.

Sindhu is also dissatisfied with the FIR, which names 16 of 41 attackers, because it fails to charge the mob with illegal trespassing and religious hatred under penal code articles 452 and 295-A, respectively. He hopes to add charges of terrorism, as almost all of the Christian men from the village have fled to escape reprisal attacks, and those who remain live in fear.

Sindhu is helping to house and feed 28 Christians from Chak 248, who are afraid to return home.

Christian politicians told Compass today that they plan to increase lobbying efforts to ensure that the case is not dropped.

“We all condemn this tragic event,” Shahid Arif, a former district assembly member, told Compass from Faisalabad while on his way with several other Christian leaders to discuss the incident with district assembly head Rana Zahid Tauseef.

Speaking from Faisalabad, where he heads inter-religious dialogue for the diocese, Catholic priest Aftab James Paul commented that violence against Christians stems from antagonistic messages from various parts of society.

“The whole education system is like that, the media, both print and electronic, and the Muslim religious clergy also teach negative things,” Paul said. “The whole atmosphere in this country is anti-minorities and anti-poor. All the weak sections of society are victimized.”

The priest called on Christians to set aside Friday (June 22) as a day of prayer for the Pakistani church. He said that it is often on Friday, after midday prayers at the mosque, that violence occurs.

“All Muslims are not bad, in fact most of them are very good and want peace and harmony,” Paul said.

But the priest remained skeptical about Muslim fanatics. “To change the hearts and minds of these people is very difficult. It’s not impossible, but I don’t know how long it will take.”

Copyright © 2007 Compass Direct