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Letter Threatening Suicide Attack Temporarily Closes a Church–Run School in Taliban Territory

9/20/07 Pakistan (ICC) – The Apostolic Carmelite Sisters closed the Public High School Sangota temporarily at district Swat in North West Frontier Province on September 9, 2007, after a threatening letter of a suicide attack was published in the local newspapers. The letter was issued by “Jan Nisaran e Islam,” an Islamic militant group.

The letter was sent to the press club at district Swat on September 8, 2007, in the Urdu language, requesting the club administration to publish and forward it to the media and principal of the Public High School Sangota, warning her to close the missionary school within a week. If it was not closed by September 17, the letter threatened that the Islamic group would attack it. Current reports indicate that the attack was not carried out.

The letter was titled “Red Notice for Public School Sangota,” and declared the school “a factory” and accused the nuns of “trying to convert the young Muslim girls to Christianity.”

“The missionary people were foreigners and don’t need money but were here just to convert the Muslim girl students to Christianity,” the letter added.

The letter further claimed, “The sisters in charge took the hostel girls to a Church situated in the convent premises at night for catechism classes. They gave them wine mixed with normal cold drinks to make them intoxicate and took their nude photographs for their hidden purposes. The students were taught through internet from the missionary stations at Europe and other western countries. They were given full freedom to use the internet as they want.”

The letter also criticized and asked the parents to take their children away and instead enroll them in the Islamic Madrasas, known for teaching a radical brand of Islam. According to Nilanthi, an Apostolic Carmelite Nun in Lahore , 99% of the students were Muslims and only two to four female teachers were Christians in the school of around 900 girl students.

An Apostolic Carmelite Lahore Convent Superior linked the issue with the activities led by America and other countries in the Frontier Province . She said, “We are targeted because of our faith and foreign nationality.” Three out of four sisters are from Sri Lanka , and the other is a local, she added.

Anthony Lobo, Bishop of Rawalpindi – Islamabad diocese, visited the site and had a meeting with the District Coordinator Officer on September 11, 2007, urging him to protect the religious minorities, especially the Christians. The police officials assured him that they would provide protection to the religious minorities and setup a 24-hour a day police guard around the school. The administration decided to reopen the school on Monday, September 17, 2007, on the deadline to close down the school given in the letter.

The Superior said, “The sisters were informed about the letter on Saturday night by a local newspaper and immediately decided to close down the school and informed the parents to take their children from the hostel.”

“There were about 80 girl students in the hostel”, she continued. “The parents of the students were very upset and condemned the letter…The school children felt to write letters to the authorities in this regard demanding protection, peace, and end to religious extremism,” she reported.

The Apostolic Carmelite sisters have been running the only missionary school situated in Malakand division, in Swat district since February 2007. The school was built in 1962 and run by the Presentation sisters earlier.

The continuity of threatening letters to the Christian community in recent months has shown that the government has failed in promoting religious tolerance, freedom of belief, and minorities’ rights, and in ending religious extremism in the country. The same sort of threatening letters and anonymous phone calls were received by the Christian community at Charsadda in May, at Shantinagar, a Christian village in Punjab, in June, and several settlements of religious minorities at Peshawar in August 2007, resulting in the harassment and migration of dozens of families to the neighboring cities.

Keeping the tense situation in view, Sister Mary Nilanthi AC, said, “We are persecuted because of our faith. Muslim likes to get education from Christians but do not like the Christians. Christians are not safe in Pakistan , nor given religious freedom and equal rights.”

According to the different newspapers repots 82 Security Personnel (Army and Police) and 11 civilians including 3 women died and 134 were injured in 8 violent incidents at district Swat just in July and August 2007. Several civilian vehicles, shops and property also came under these attacks.

The religious extremist groups reportedly attacked, burnt, and closed the music, cable operators’ and barbers’ shops forcibly in recent months. A wave of the religious extremism hit the society after the “operation silence” on Lal (Red) Mosque at Islamabad last July.