South Asia

Pakistan courts accused of double standards for Christians and Muslims

In a shocking verdict for the Christian community in Pakistan, 42 Christians have been convicted by an anti-terrorism court in Lahore. Three days had been set aside for the trial which started on 20 February 2017 – 22 February 2017.

Pakistan Christian News reported that the verdict was pronounced on the first day of trial and these Christians were convicted. “Those arrested included three Christian rights activists and social workers who were labelled as instigators of agitation and violence.”

Over 500 ‘unidentified’ Christians were booked, while 84 Christians were later arrested. 42 were granted bail and 42 were still held in jail.

The fuming Christian mob was accused of killing two Muslim men suspected of being associates of the two suicide bombers who attacked the two churches in Lahore on 15 March 2015 killing fourteen people and injuring more than 70 people. The two suicide bombers detonated their explosives near the gates of St John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church, which is half a kilometre apart in Youhanabad –  home to more than 100,000 Christians.

About 4,000 angry Christians took to the streets of Lahore, many armed with clubs as they smashed vehicles. Two men suspected of being involved in planning the terror attack were set alight and killed by the mob.

Pakistani Christian leaders condemned the killing of the two Muslim men.

In a different anti-terrorism court in Pakistan, 115 Muslims have been cleared of their involvement in the torching of Christians’ houses in Joseph Colony, Lahore in 2013.

The suspects out on bail were acquitted because of lack of evidence.

The incident took place when a mob of 3000 Muslims attacked and burnt the Christian colony after a rumour that a Christian, Sawan Masih had blasphemed. Though no life was lost, there was widespread damage to property. It was reported that 125 houses were burnt, two churches and dozens of Bibles were desecrated in the attack.

The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), an initiative of Pakistan’s Catholic bishops, told Fides that they were disappointed that the church attackers have not been punished.

Nasir Saeed Director of a UK based NGO (CLAAS-UK) said, “The acquittal is a very unfortunate situation and such a decision cannot be accepted.

“Thousands of people were involved in the attack and their videos and hateful statements are still available on social media. If this is not enough for the courts or for the police to identify them, then nothing can be done but this is a clear example of injustice and the treatment of Christians in Pakistan,” he added.

Sawan Masih is now in prison and on death row, CLAAS has submitted an appeal on his behalf and is waiting to hear for a date.

Christians make up around two percent of Pakistan’s mainly Muslim population of 180 million. Pakistan is rated as number 4 on the Open Doors World Watch List of top 50 countries where the persecution of Christians is most severe.