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3/20/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) commends the government of Pakistan for its immediate response in providing financial aid promising to rebuild the houses of Christian families following the destruction of some 180 Christian homes by a Muslim mob in Lahore on March 9. While victims are satisfied with the government’s relief efforts, they doubt the government’s pledge to bring the perpetrators to justice. Past experience has shown that offenders of anti-Christian violence in Pakistan are rarely prosecuted, and usually operate with impunity.
More than 200 Christian families living in the Joseph Colony of Lahore were made homeless on March 9 after a mob of some 3,000 Muslims set their houses ablaze and looted or destroyed their possessions. The violence was triggered by accusations that a Christian man living in the colony had made derogatory remarks about the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Christians in the community are now living in tents provided by local NGOs.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif called the attack “the worst example of barbarism” and ordered the immediate rebuilding of damaged houses on March 10. Sharif also promised financial aid to the families. Many families have already received checks from the government, though some have experienced difficulty cashing them at the bank, according to ICC sources. Overall, Pakistani Christians spoke positively about the government’s response.
“Some families are complaining that repairs in their houses were overlooked, but generally speaking, the government has taken a strong and rapid response to this issue,” the director of a Pakistan human rights organization in Lahore told ICC. “In fact, the government has done much more for these families than other communities in the past. I’ve never seen a response like this before and for the most part, Christians in Joseph Colony seem to be satisfied.”
The government’s ability to protect its Christian communities is a separate issue, however. On March 13, Pakistan’s top court ordered police and provincial officials to explain why they failed to prevent rioters from attacking Christian homes. Though police have reportedly arrested dozens of Muslims in connection to the violence, Christians have little assurance that the perpetrators will be prosecuted. “Law-enforcement agencies are shy of taking action against extremists and some of them even have sympathies for outfits promoting extremist culture,” said Joseph Francis, Director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance, and Settlement (CLAAS).
In August 2009, a similar incident occurred in Gojra where more than 50 Christian homes were torched and seven Christians were killed by a Muslim mob following reports that a Christian man had blasphemed Islam. Though the government of Punjab rebuilt the houses, it failed to prosecute those responsible for the attack. “This record shows that the government will not follow through on its promises, lulling the Christian community into a false sense of security,” reported the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). “[The] government’s apathy to the religious minorities and appeasement policy toward religious extremist elements for political gain… increase vulnerability of the Christian community to such attacks.”
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “While ICC commends the Pakistani government’s effort to meet the immediate needs of the suffering Christian community in Joseph Colony, Lahore, we also strongly urge the government to carry out a thorough investigation of the incident and punish those responsible. Financial assistance alone will do little to ease the minds of victims or to put an end to the rising attacks by Muslim extremists on religious minority communities. To offer impunity to the perpetrators will only embolden extremists to commit ever-more violent acts against Christians and other non-Muslims. The government’s history of appeasing extremists must end lest the country continue to be plagued by abuse in the name of religion.”
For interviews, contact Aidan Clay, Regional Manager for Middle East: [email protected]
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