From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Pakistani Christians demand more action to bring church killers to
PCUSA NEWS <PCUSA.NEWS@ecunet.org>
5 Dec 2001 14:06:58 -0500
Note #6970 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:
Pakistani Christians demand more action to bring church killers to justice
No arrests yet in murder of 16 worshipers
by Paul Jeffrey
Ecumenical News International
PESHAWAR, Pakistan - More than a month after an attack on a Christian church
left 16 people dead, Pakistan's government still hasn't solved the killings,
according to church leaders here.
"Government officials just keep saying they are working on it, yet no one
has been arrested as far as we know. We think they know who did it, and
announcing an arrest would be a big step forward," Victor Azariah, the
general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Pakistan, told ENI.
Unidentified gunmen attacked a church in Bahawalpur on Oct. 28. Azariah
said he had information that the assassins were members of Sipah-e-Sahaba,
the "Soldiers of Islam," one of several Islamic extremist groups here that
have been irritated by Pakistan's support for the U.S. military intervention
in neighboring Afghanistan.
Pakistan's Christian community, accounting for less than 2 per cent of the
population, is often associated with the West.
"They say America is Christian, and so we are identified with the United
States whether we want to be or not," said Cecil Williams, bishop of the
Peshawar diocese of the Church of Pakistan - a denomination that in 1970
united Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, and the Church of Scotland.
The massacre in Bahawalpur took place in a Catholic church, but Catholics
shared the building with a congregation of the Church of Pakistan. On the
Sunday of the attack, the Catholic and Protestant congregations had switched
their times of worship. The Protestants were the ones attacked. Many suspect
that the killers' intended target was the local Catholic priest, a U.S.
citizen, but weren't aware of the switch in services.
Azariah said the government has so far only carried out a police
investigation of the case. However, church leaders are not aware that this
investigation has produced any results and are demanding a more thorough
judicial inquiry led by a judge.
He said the Christian community here "has not publicly protested the
killing, as we want to give the government a free hand to investigate."
Most church buildings in Pakistan have police guards since the massacre.
After ending his country's support for the Taliban and aligning his
country with the U.S. and other western countries fighting in neighboring
Afghanistan, President Pervez Musharraf has cracked down on extremist
religious parties, including Sipah-e-Sahaba. Dozens of leaders of religious
parties have been detained by the government.
Musharraf is reportedly considering closing scores of madrassas, the
schools where young male Afghan refugees, many orphaned and growing up
without women in their lives, were offered free education, but emerged as
committed militants of the fundamentalist parties. Many of the Taliban's
leaders were educated in madrassas around Peshawar.
Many poor Pakistani youth were also educated in the madrassas, and
thousands crossed the border in recent weeks to join the Taliban in fighting
against the U.S. However, the Taliban's declining fortunes on the
battlefield have meant the return to Pakistan of many of those militants.
"The return of the fanatics is making life more difficult for us, but if
the government remains strict about them then it can control them," Williams
In the wake of the massacre, Williams said Pakistani church leaders had
received letters of condolence and solidarity from Christians around the
"Yet all the messages aren't going to help the survivors," Williams
He noted that church organizations were spending money to help Afghan
refugees in Pakistan. "If we're taking care of the refugees we should also
take care of our own brethren, the Christians."
According to Sarophina Parvez, a lay activist in the Church of Pakistan
in Peshawar who is related to 13 of the people killed at Bahawalpur, local
congregations here received written threats following the killings. She said
they took the notes to the police, who spoke to the local Muslim cleric they
believed responsible. The threats stopped, she said, but fear
"Some of the congregations wanted us to get Kalashnikovs (assault
rifles), but what are we going to do with Kalashnikovs? And, besides, it is
written in the Gospels that we will suffer," Parvez told ENI.
She said problems between Muslim groups are even more pronounced than
tensions between Muslims and Christians. "We have a few police officers who
come to protect us from any trouble, but there's a Shiite mosque down the
street which has to have a large contingent of police and soldiers in order
to protect the Shiites from the Sunni Muslims, who are the majority," Parvez
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