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ICC Note:

The international community needs to be as involved in protecting Christians in Pakistan as it was in rescuing a Christian convert in Afghanistan last week.

AsiaNews (04/03/06) – A fifth church in Pakistan has been attacked within two months. The incident took place on the night of 30 March in the province of Punjab . Since the attack, human rights activists in Pakistan have stepped up their calls on international religious leaders and politicians to range themselves against the persecution of Christians in the country with the same zeal that they fought for the life of the converted Afghan, Abdul Rahman.

On Thursday night, a group of unidentified people set fire to a Protestant church in the village of Mian Channu . No one was injured. The police said they had no idea who could be behind the attack. According to a local police official, the action aimed to create “religious agitation” in the area. Even the pastor of the church, Rev. Nathaniel Barkat, said he did not know who the perpetrators were, although he speculated that they may be local extremists. The pastor appealed to the forces of order to guarantee more security for Christians, “shaken by the attack”.

In an official press statement, Ejaz Ghauri, chairman of the Human Development Net (HDN), yesterday condemned the attack on the Mian Channu church, accusing the authorities of not intervening to protect minorities from episodes of religious violence.

In the statement, Ejaz Ghauri thanked the Pope for the solidarity he expressed with all Christians persecuted for their faith, and for those who live in countries without religious freedom. At the same time, however, he called on religious leaders who had gone all out for the release of Abdul Rahman – the converted Christian saved from the gallows in Afghanistan last week – to give the same attention to growing religious persecution in Pakistan .

The last two months have seen an increase in violence against Christian targets.

On 3 February, a Catholic church was attacked in Kanwanlit, Sialkot district;

The furnishings, windows and religious texts were destroyed. On 20 February, during protests against the Muhammad cartoons, a crowd of several hundred enraged Muslims attacked and looted two churches in Sukkur: the Catholic church of St Mary and St Saviour of the Church of Pakistan . Some days earlier, on 15 February, demonstrators vented their rage on three Christian high schools. On 20 February, it was the turn of the Presbyterian Church of Basti Noori Gate, in Sarghoda, which was set on fire.

Even attacks against individuals have taken place. On 18 February, some unidentified men beat a well-known Christian singer A Nayyar. The aggressors than forced him to recite the kalma (the profession of the Islamic faith).