Christians protest in Pakistan streets after mass murder

27 September 2013

REUTERS

Protest and prayer:above:participants in a protest rally in Lahore

Protest and prayer:above:participants in a protest rally in Lahore

CROSSES were held aloft, tyres were burned, and roads were blocked in cities across Pakistan this week, as Christians demanded better protection from the government, in the wake of the one of the worst attacks ever on the country's Christians.

Eighty-five people were killed in a suicide bombing at All Saints', Peshawar, part of the United Church of Pakistan, on Sunday. Victims included 34 women and seven children. More than 100 have been wounded. On Tuesday, the Archbishop of Canterbury described the dead as "martyrs".

Security sources have reported that two suicide bombers carried out the attack as worshippers left the church after the service for refreshments on the lawn outside.

The Bishop of Peshawar, the Rt Revd Humphrey Peters, said that the attack represented "the total failure of the new Government of KPK" (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province of which Peshawar is the capital). It had "failed to provide security to the minorities".

"It's not safe for Christians in this country," the Bishop Emeritus of Peshawar, the Rt Revd Mano Rumalshah, said on Sunday, The Guardian reported. "Everyone is ignoring the growing danger to Christians in Muslim-majority countries. The European countries don't give a damn about us."

On Monday, the chief executive of Release, Paul Robinson, said: "Our partners say that All Saints' Church had been under threat for days, and, although the authorities had posted some police presence, it's now obvious that that was insufficient."

On Monday, protesters marched in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, where hundreds blocked a main highway. On Wednesday, the diocese of Wakefield announced that it had sent £2000 to Lady Reading Hospital, where victims were being treated, after launching an appeal with the emergency aid charity Muslim Hands.

In London, protests were held outside the High Commission of Pakistan in London. Wilson Chowdhry, who chairs the British Pakistani Christian Association, said: "This suffering, which has reached genocidal proportions, must come to an end. Serious international intervention is required to prevent the total extermination of Christians from Pakistan."

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The Jundullah arm of the Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack. Ahmad Marwat, who iden- tified himself as the group's spokesman, told the Associated Press by telephone: "All non-Muslims in Pakistan are our target, and they will remain our target as long as America fails to stop drone strikes in our country."

The Pakistani Taliban condemned the attack. The Pakistani government is currently pursuing a strategy of seeking unconditional talks with the Taliban; but on Monday the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, said that the attack meant that it would be "unable to proceed as it intended".

On Sunday he said: "The terrorists have no religion, and targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions." A three-day period of mourning was announced, and the government has pledged to bolster protection for Christians.

The Pakistan Ulema Council, composed of Muslim clerics and scholars, said that it was "standing with our Christian brothers in this tragedy".

On Tuesday, Archbishop Welby told the BBC that the victims of the bombings were "martyrs", attacked "because they were testifying to their faith in Jesus Christ by going to church. That is outside any acceptable expression, in any circumstances, for any reason, of religious difference."

On Monday, Canon Titus Presler, the Principal of Edwardes College, the only college of the Church of Pakistan, situated less than two miles from All Saints', reported on his blog that students and alumni were among the dead. The number was yet to be determined.

"What happened in Peshawar yesterday expresses a rise in extremism that is quite different from the tenor of the Pakistan that people knew from independence to about 1980," he wrote. "It prompts in many, many Pakistanis surprise, bewilderment and grief."

Peshawar, in north-western Pakistan and near the border with Afghanistan, is vulnerable to acts of terror. In 2009, a suicide-bomber killed himself and five others at a checkpoint near Edwardes College (News, 1 January, 2010). In March, Bishop Peters led 2000 Christians on a march in a nationwide protest demanding improved security for Christians, after a mob set alight two churches and more than 150 homes in a Christian district of Lahore ( News, 15 March).

All Saints', opened in 1883, is situated inside the Kohati Gate of the old walled city of Peshawar.

On Monday, the Bishop of Ponte- fract, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, who chairs the Archbishop of Canterbury's Pakistan Focus Group, said that it was "very difficult for the gov- ernment in Pakistan to protect every church"; but the rise of terror groups "may mean they need to be more proactive than they have been".

Pakistan is home to 5.3 million Christians in a population of 180 million.

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