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40 Pakistani Christians freed after almost 5 years in prison on trial for ‘terrorism’

Location near where a mob burnt alive two men in angry reaction to twin church suicide bomb attacks in Youhanabad, March 2015. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

(World Watch Monitor) Forty Pakistani Christians, who’ve been on trial for the murder of two men during a violent protest following Easter suicide attacks on two churches in Youhanabad – a majority-Christian area in Lahore – have been freed by the Lahore Anti-Terrorism Court. Two others, arrested with them, have already died, allegedly due to a lack of access to medical treatment.

The twin suicide bombings, on 15 March 2015, which killed 17 and injured another 80, were claimed by a splinter group of the Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. The death toll would have been much higher if church volunteers on ‘security duty’ had not acted quickly to defend worshippers.

In riots that erupted following the bomb blasts, a mob killed two Muslim men whom they believed had been involved in the attacks. In the end 42 Christians went on trial for their murder, but two died in prison before 2018. The other 40 have been waiting for their appeal to be heard by the Lahore High Court. Meantime, the group have reached a financial settlement with the families of the two men, which under Pakistani law allows for all their acquittal.

The Anti-Terrorism Court announced the verdict on 29 January, acquitting all, including those who had died, after recording the statements of the victims’ families, who told the court that they had arrived at an agreement with the suspects and would have no objections over their acquittal.

A local reacted: “As we give thanks as Christians in Pakistan, one cannot get away from the brutal realities of what this means. The journey of physical, emotional and spiritual healing ahead is a long one. Pray for the right people to be positioned alongside them.

“We also reflect on the lives and deaths of the two [who died in prison]. If they had not, the release of the 40 would not have happened. Their deaths acted as catalysts and became an advocacy bridge for pushing for action and justice”.

Background

In 2015, the Christians of Yohanabad had been angry in the immediate aftermath of the twin suicide attacks on their churches because in 2014, Pakistan’s Supreme Court had ordered the creation of a special police force to protect minority worship places – but this had been later scrapped. Punjab Human Rights and Minority Affairs Minister, Khalil Tahir Sandhu, had said “there was no need of raising another force for this purpose” because the protection of worship places “was quite satisfactory in the Punjab and reasonable security was being provided”.

Napoleon Qayyum, who lived 100 yards from one of the bombed churches, said police were not providing security to the church: “The local police station had been requested to provide a walk-through gate for security, but no such measure was put in place.”

A Catholic nun, Sister Arsene, who had reached one church 30 minutes after it had been bombed, tried to explain to the BBC why the subsequent anger had spilled out of control. “We’re treated as second class citizens. We’d like the government to give Christians our due place and due right. That’s why the angry youths reacted.”

At the time, there were conflicting reports about the two men set upon by the angry mob. Some reports said the two carried weapons, other reports said they had been firing them.

The two, who had been arrested and put into a police vehicle, were apparently forced out of the vehicle, beaten up and eventually burned alive on Ferozepur Road. Some social media reported they were suspects thought to have attacked the churches. Other reports said they were, separately, planning to attack another small church in Khaliqnagar, a Christian settlement next to Yahounabad.

However, some days later, they were finally identified as Muhammad Naeem, a local glasscutter, and Babar Nauman, a hosiery worker from Sargodha; it appeared that they had had nothing to do with the church attacks.

News of their murder filled the Pakistani media, somewhat overshadowing the deaths of the 17 Christians and injury to 80 more. As gory images of their lynching ran on TV and more details emerged, for many Pakistanis earlier sympathy with the Christian community slowly turned into animosity. One young Muslim commented on a Facebook post:

“Christians (Chuhras) have set on fire two Muslims today. I am only sad about their death.” (“Chuhra” is a pejorative term often used to describe Christians).

Easter 2015 suicide attacks repeated Easter 2016, but foiled in 2017

“The Tehrik-e-Taliban Jamaatul Ahrar accepts responsibility for the [2015] attacks on the churches in Lahore,” its spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan later told reporters. “We promise that until an Islamic system is put into place in Pakistan, such attacks will continue. If Pakistan’s rulers think they can stop us, they can try.”

In March 2016, on Easter Sunday, the Pakistani Christian community experienced the deadliest terror attack in the history of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous, and most Christian, state when the same Jamaat-ul-Ahrar bombed a popular children’s park in Lahore as families thronged to enjoy their holiday. At least 76 died, many of them children, with over 300 injured.

(Christians make up just 2 per cent of overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan. They are somewhat more prevalent in Lahore, which has about 10 million people, about 5 per cent of whom are Christian).

At Easter 2017, Pakistan’s security forces said they prevented a “major” terror attack on Christians in Lahore over the same weekend. The police caught the attackers in time, killing one suspect, Ali Tariq, and making two arrests during a Good Friday raid at the Punjab Housing Society in Lahore. Two suicide vests and four grenades were recovered from the scene.

Earlier, police had released a memo warning the city’s residents: “Reliable sources have informed us that two suicide bombers of an unidentified terrorist organisation have entered Lahore with the intention of carrying out attacks in churches or parks on 16/17 April. They have been equipped with suicide jackets and will target areas where the presence of Christians will be high.”

One of those arrested was a 20 year old woman, Naureen Leghari, who’d been to join Islamic State group in Syria. The medical student confessed to returning to Lahore with the intention of carrying out a suicide bombing against a church during Easter 2017, according to an interview broadcast on local television.

Police later released her, saying that she had undergone rehabilitation and that IS had deceived her.

Prosecutor offered 40 their freedom if they converted to Islam

In May 2017, it came to light that the Lahore deputy district public prosecutor Syed Anees Shah had told the 40 Christians that they would be freed if they converted to Islam. He was later found guilty of proselytism and suspended.

Shah was criticised for his alleged comment by Malik Muhammmad Ahmed Khan, then-special assistant to the chief minister of Punjab, who said the offer “is not just shameful but a heinous crime … We are all set to end the extremist mindset and steer the country to a tolerant and moderate society. Therefore, we cannot tolerate anyone in the government machinery with this mindset”.

Pakistan’s Senate Special Committee on Human Rights said almost two years ago that “terrorism charges against the [Christians] arrested should be dropped and they should be tried in civil courts”, as Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported.

At that time (May 2018), then-Senator Farhatullah Babar said: “[Three] years ago, two churches were targeted in Youhanabad, as a result of which [many] Christian citizens died. People in the area conducted protests to condemn the deaths of their fellow citizens – as is their right. These people were charged with terrorism and have been rotting in jail.”

In September, 2013, a suicide bomber had blown himself up outside a 130-year-old church in Peshawar after Sunday Mass, killing around 80.

The group’s acquittal came on the same day that the most well-known Pakistani Christian, Asia Bibi, published her biography (in French only, ‘Enfin Libre’ (Free at Long Last), written with French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet, author of two previous books with the woman who survived 9 years in prison on false charges of blasphemy.

“You know my story from the media, perhaps you have tried to put yourself in my place to understand what I suffered,” Asia Bibi was quoted saying in a press release announcing the new book. “But you are far from understanding my day to day existence in prison, or my new life, and that is why I tell you everything in this book.”

VOP Note: The public launch for the new book will happen on 1 February. Translation into other languages will soon be available as well.

PAKISTAN – The Archbishop of Lahore at the funeral of the victims of Youhanabad: “Be men of peace”

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Lahore (Agenzia Fides) – “We do not need and do not want a civil war. We Christians are people of peace. Do not let the pain cloud our eyes. What future do we want to build for Pakistan? A future of harmony and reconciliation”: this is what the Archbishop of Lahore, Sebastian Shaw said to a crowd of over 10 thousand faithful who took part in the funeral of the victims of the St. John Church (Catholic) and Christ Church (Protestant) attack in Youhanabad, Christian suburb on the outskirts of Lahore.

The celebration of the funeral, which was held in the Catholic church of St. John, was ecumenical: it was attended by the Catholic and Protestant Archbishops of Lahore. The victims and the families present belonged to both Christian communities: the funeral of the victims of both attacks was celebrated as a sign of profound communion. The funeral was also attended by representatives of civil authorities and some Muslim leaders came as a sign of solidarity with Christians.

In an interview with Agenzia Fides, Archbishop Shaw said: “We have reiterated that violence is not the right path. The Gospel calls us to Always be, in every circumstance men of peace. Today, in this pain, we can pray and seek consolation in God. Christ is our consolation”. The Bishop stressed that “Christians today want peace and security. As Pakistani citizens, we ask the government security and protection, in order to live in harmony and to help build a just, peaceful and fraternal nation”.
The bodies of the victims were taken to the cemetery in Lahore, where they received proper burial. “We are in mourning, but our faith sustains us. The Lord does not abandon us in this ordeal”, says to Fides don Asharf Gill, a priest of the diocese of Lahore. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 17/03/2015)

VOP:

Blessed are the peacemakersfor they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:9-11

Eye for Eye

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19 (words we must remember and live by)

“In your anger do not sin” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,  and do not give the devil a foothold. Ephesians 4:26-27

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:10-12

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

In love, we stand with Pakistani Christians and pray for their endurance. Be strong brothers and sisters, God is with you.

Voice of the Persecuted

Voice of the Persecuted is an interdenominational organization standing with and stepping up for the persecuted. Together with your generous support, we can reach the goal to alleviate their suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.

HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED

Everyday, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and further His Kingdom! As you have greatly blessed others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!

 

Attacks Rock Asia & Africa – Today, Evil Knows No Boundaries Or Benevolence

cross-persecution

(Voice of the Persecuted) While the media, western leaders and so called experts and analysts focus and downplay the connected ties that evil has, attacks rocked from Pakistan to Nigeria.  One close to us lost a friend in the attacks on Christian Churches in Pakistan.  Today, evil knows no boundaries or benevolence. Images show even children who were wounded. The militants belonging to a religious ideology that loves death more than life, joined together terrorizing from multiple regions of the world, as we’ve warned in the past.   Using them as a cover for arms traffic as well.  There has been a superhighway of terror flowing from the Middle East, to the coasts of Africa and Asia for some time.

While the Taliban was committing a genocidal attack on Christians in Pakistan, Boko Haram was burning whole villages, using an IDP camp to hide bombs ready to be detonated.  The AFP reported the bombs were found in the city’s Yerwa primary school, prompting panic until soldiers destroyed the bombs from a distance. The school was converted into a camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) after Boko Haram Islamists captured the town of Bama, some 70 kilometres (43 miles) from Maiduguri, last July. 

We’ve shared that refugee camps were infiltrated by rebels using these camps to gather information, as a base for terror, frequently kidnapping, raping and torturing. Many refugees flee these camps for when they recognize militants in the midst.

On Saturday, Boko Haram set fire to homes in the town of Bama.  The military was reportedly on it’s way to retake the town, when Boko Haram suddenly told everyone to leave. They then set fire to their homes.  But not everyone was able to escape—the sick, the weak, and the elderly couldn’t leave and locals fear that they were burned alive in their homes.  Those who could fled toward Maiduguri.  There has been a renewed call from the UN for all African Nations to start a monetary fund for fighting Boko Haram, while France seems to be providing logistics. There are reports that hired mercenaries were making their way through Northern Nigeria also to take down the Boko Haram. The Nigerian government denies hiring any foreign mercenaries. But others suggest the use of mercenaries is far more extensive than previously known. Several hundred mercenaries, including pilots of helicopters and fighter jets – are believed to be involved in the battle against the Boko Haram insurgents. One diplomat told Reuters that the hiring of foreign mercenaries “appears to be a desperate ploy to get some sort of tactical success up there in six weeks for the electoral boost.”

ISIS appears to be extending their reach, with the recent renewed pledge of allegiance from Boko Haram. And hints that Al-Shabob will be following suit. Uniting under one goal, and that is to destroy the West, Christianity and anything else that stands in their way.  The media is beginning to talk about this evil spreading across 1/4 of the globe, but is it too little too late? Western leaders are still scrambling to put 2 sentences together about them.

The Pope spoke out today and condemned the Pakistan attack.  CNA quoted him saying,

 “With suffering, with much suffering, I have learned of today’s terrorist attacks against two churches in the city of Lahore, Pakistan, which have caused numerous deaths and injuries,” the Pope told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square March 15.

Francis noted how both of the churches targeted, only a few meters apart, “are Christian churches, the Christians who are persecuted,” and grieved how “our brothers shed their blood solely because they are Christians.”

In addition to praying for the victims and their families, Francis implored God “for the gift of peace and harmony for that country, and that this persecution against Christians – which the world tries to hide – will end, and that there will be peace.”

Pray for peace and pray endurance for our brethren, globally facing so much suffering.

C. Refsland, VOP Advocate/News Analyst

Voice of the Persecuted

Voice of the Persecuted is an interdenominational organization standing with and stepping up for the persecuted. Together with your generous support, we can reach the goal to alleviate their suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.

HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED

Everyday, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and further His Kingdom! As you have greatly blessed others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!

 

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