Washington, D.C. (September 20, 2012) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that violent protestors denouncing a film that is derogatory of Muslims targeted Christian institutions in Hyderabad, Pakistan on Sunday. A statement condemning the film issued by local church leadership has failed to calm anti-Christian sentiment in the area. Christians fear being the targets of future attacks and have urged government officials to increase security efforts to protect religious minorities.
On September 16, thousands of Muslim protestors burned crosses and threw stones at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Cathedral in Hyderabad, the official Vatican news agency Fides reported. During the demonstration, unknown gunmen fired at the cathedral door and at a nun who works at a nearby Catholic hospital.
“When Mother Christina, who is in charge of Lady Gram Hospital, reached the gate of the Cathedral, a few men on motorbikes opened fire on the church,” Amanat Masih, a human rights activist, told ICC. “Mother Christina's driver received two bullets in his legs, but Mother Christina was not hurt.”
Mother Christina's driver, Aamir Ashiq, said the men wore “green clothes” on their heads and carried green flags. Ashiq was wounded by gunshots in the leg and was immediately admitted to a hospital for medical treatment.
Violent protests reignited the next day when rioters were prevented from breaking into St. Elizabeth Hospital by a group of young Muslim and Christian men in Hyderabad, Asia News reported. “We will teach a lesson to the Christians,” a security guard on duty recalls one of the protestors as saying. The doors and windows of the Catholic hospital were damaged, Masih told ICC.
Tensions were stirred following the release of a film, titled 'Innocence of Muslims,’ which portrays the Muslim prophet Mohammed in a demeaning way. At least 28 people, including the US ambassador to Libya and 10 foreigners in Kabul, have been killed during the unrest that has swept across the Muslim world, reported The New York Times.
Many Christians are concerned that they may be the targets of future attacks. “The situation is tense, and among Christians, there is great concern and fear,” Father Samson Shukardin, the Vicar-General of the Catholic diocese in Hyderabad, told Fides. “Radicals identify America as Christian and they take it out on us, a small minority in the country.”
Church leadership in Hyderabad denounced the film and expressed solidarity with their Muslim neighbors in a peaceful demonstration on Sunday. “[Filmmakers should] use their talents not to offend but to promote world peace and social harmony,” read a joint statement issued by Pakistani Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh leaders belonging to the National Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Despite efforts to ease tensions, anti-US demonstrations have continued into their fourth day in Hyderabad. Church-based institutions in the city have been closed since Sunday and church leadership has asked local authorities to increase security to protect religious minority communities in the region.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “Not surprisingly, Christians in Pakistan—who are often associated with the West because of their religious convictions—are becoming the targets of extremist attacks because of an anti-Muslim film they were neither involved in nor endorsed. On the contrary, Christians have strongly condemned the film, yet their public statements have done little to pacify extremists who view the film as an excuse to carry out a religious vendetta against innocent minorities. The underlying issue here is not the film’s anti-Islamic message, as distasteful as it was, but rather Pakistan’s blasphemy laws which protect and sometimes endorse violence against perceived blasphemers or those believed to be associated with them. While the Christian minority in Hyderabad is victimized, radical mob violence goes unpunished. Mob rule and violent riots will continue in Pakistan and throughout the Islamic world until blasphemy laws are repealed, free speech is protected, and the rule of law is enforced. For now, however, it is the Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan who will continue to suffer the consequences of injustice.”
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