PAKISTAN: Churches to hold day of protest August 11

August 6, 2009

Pakistan churches have announced a day of protest August 11 against the recent killing of Christians in central Punjab, and threats against their members in the Muslim-majority nation.

"We need to raise our voices now," Victor Azariah, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan, told Ecumenical News International on August 6.

The Pakistan government had announced in June that August 11 would be celebrated nationally as "minorities day." The date marks the anniversary of a 1947 speech by the nation's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, which called for impartial government, religious freedom, rule of law and equality for all.

More than 75 church leaders and representatives from across Pakistan, including from the Roman Catholic Church, attended the August 4 meeting, called by the Christian council, which decided to observe a day of protest.

The decision follows the deaths of at least seven Christians in Gojra city in central Punjab after they were attacked by a Muslim mob.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani August 6 visited the city and pledged to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks. "Christians are equal citizens of Pakistan and the state has the responsibility to protect them," the Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported him as saying.

Four women and two children were reported to be among the Christians killed in the August 1 incident in Gojra. This followed earlier violence in the nearby village of Korian after rumours that a copy of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, had been desecrated.

On August 5, ACT International, a global alliance of churches and related agencies, said it was working with partners to bring assistance to people made homeless in Gojra.

"Families are salvaging whatever belongings they can from their damaged houses," ACT said in a statement in which it announced it had approved $60,000 for a month's supply of food rations and essential non-food items.

The attacks brought widespread condemnation from Christian leaders worldwide.

"Such actions are not the work of true Muslims. They are an abuse of real faith and an injury to its reputation as well as an outrage against common humanity, and deserve forthright condemnation," said Archbishop of Canterbury Roman Williams, the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

"Christians in Pakistan are a small and vulnerable minority, generally with little political or economic power," Williams said in a statement. "They are disproportionately affected by the draconian laws against blasphemy, which in recent years have frequently been abused in order to settle local and personal grievances."

Earlier, Pope Benedict XVI had condemned the killings as a "wanton act" of violence. In a message to Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad, the pontiff said Christians in Pakistan should not be deterred in efforts "to help build a society which, with a profound sense of trust in religious and human values, is marked by mutual respect."

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, had said, "The Gojra carnage of 1 August, the latest in a series of organized attacks against Christians, reconfirms the fear that the government is constantly failing to protect its citizens, who frequently face attacks by militant Islamic groups."