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Justice Still Has Not Been Administered, Even After Three Years

3/15/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Three years ago, suicide bombers killed dozens of Christians and four Muslims in an attack on two Christian churches in Youhanabad, a primarily Christian neighborhood in Lahore, Pakistan. At approximately 11:18 a.m. on March 15, 2015, attackers detonated at St. John’s Catholic Church. Five minutes later, suicide bombers attacked Christ Church. According to a local source, as many as 3,000 Christians were gathered at these churches for Sunday prayer. Later, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.

Christians responded by protesting in the streets, demanding justice. Two Muslims accused of participating in the attack were killed during the protest and the police launched an indiscriminate arrest spree. Rather than focusing on the church bombings, police began arresting hundreds of people for being Christians in Youhanabad. Of the 300 Christians arrested, the coordinator for Legal Aid, Mr. Behram Francis, noted that “88 Christians were charged for lynching two men, looting shops and vandalizing a metro-bus station. 20 were charged for vandalizing, 27 for looting and 41 for lynching two Muslims.” Police ignored basic protocols while making arrests, including examining evidence. For example, the entire assault was captured by numerous cameras, but police still arrested Christians who were not in any footage.

Of the 88 initially charged, 47 were released on bail and 41 awaited trials in prison while enduring continual torture. In August and December 2017, two Christians died in prison so there are now 39 waiting. Francis told International Christian Concern (ICC) that in 2017, “the prosecutor offered accused Christians [the opportunity] to convert to Islam for their acquittal.” After the prosecutor delivered his offer, Christians worry that their loved ones will never be released. They fear that authorities are using imprisonment as an opportunity to forcefully convert Christians to Islam.

The prisoners are their families’ primary providers; thus, their absence leaves families with a daily struggle for survival. Twenty-year-old Faisal Javed is one of the accused. His father told ICC, “During the last three years it has ruined my family economically. It affected my wife and she is in trauma. I don’t know [if] we will win or lose in the court; however, [my wife] seems [to be] losing hope for son and her life.”

Ayra Inderyas, the secretary of the Women’s Desk Church of Pakistan, echoed the call of Pakistan’s Christians for justice, “While remembering all those Church members, who have lost their lives in twin suicide blasts a year ago during Sunday services in Lahore, we strongly urge the authorities to ensure protection of the worship places of all religions and stand in adherence to the constitutional guarantees for the protection and promotion of the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan.”

Inderyas’ call grows louder as Pakistan clamps down on religious minorities, but Christians are losing hope that the Pakistani government will ever administer justice, either for the ones who died in the attack or the ones who have been wrongfully imprisoned.

William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “On the third anniversary of the Youhanabad bombings, we remember both the victims of the attack and the Youhanabad prisoners with great sadness. Recently, the Pakistani government has used imprisonment as a tool for conversion rather than seeking justice. Christians have demonstrated great bravery over the last three years as they have gathered together to support one another. The deaths and imprisonments have left wives and children in an incredibly vulnerable position. They have little opportunity for work in order to provide for themselves. Today, we remember the sacrifice and courage of the dead and imprisoned, but also their families which continue to face incredible challenges.

For interviews, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected]