A Catholic bishop in Pakistan has responded to the anti-Christian attacks over the weekend, deeming them some of the worst attacks Christians have suffered in the country. He lamented the “half-hearted and ineffective” police response to threats against Christians.
On Saturday a mob of nearly 3,000 violent Muslims looted and burned a Christian neighborhood of Gojra city in the Punjab province, killing at least six Christians by burning them to death.
The attacks reportedly took place in reaction to a rumor that the Koran was desecrated in a nearby village. The desecration was alleged to have taken place when children cut up pages from an old school book to use as wedding confetti. The school book supposedly contained verses from the Koran.
The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reports that not six but eight Christians were burned to death, including nine-year-old Umia Alnaf, her mother Asifa, and ten-year-old Mausa Masih. A 22-year-old named Asia Victar and her mother Eerueen were among the dead, as were two men in their 70s.
More than 20 people were injured in the attacks by the mob, which carried sticks, clubs and a small number of firearms. The mob set fire to property including more than 50 homes and two Protestant churches.
Two days before the attack in Gojra City, gangs set fire to more than 70 Christian homes and two small Protestant churches in the nearby village of Korian. They had demanded that Taalib Masih, the father of the boy who allegedly cut up Koran verses, be hanged for blasphemy against Islam. However, Christians were forewarned of the attack and escaped before the mob arrived.
The Bishop of Faisalabad Joseph Coutts spoke with ACN in an interview from Pakistan. He said there is “a lot of anger” among the people concerning the attacks.
“Emotions are running extremely high. People could respond in any way. This is undoubtedly one of the worst attacks we have faced.”
While arson and looting were too common, the bishop said, the attacks were the first in recent memory in which Christians had been killed in an act of religious hatred.
On Sunday Bishop Coutts presided at the funerals of those who died in the Gojra violence.
Speaking to ACN, he said the police response to the well publicized threats against Gojra was “half-hearted and ineffective.” Highlighting the number of recent anti-Christian attacks, he charged that the threat to their safety was being ignored.
“In all these cases, the police did almost nothing to stop the rampaging mobs. Condolences, apologies and assurances [always] pour in from officials and other citizens after the event, but the timely action required to prevent such incidents has always been missing.”
Bishop Coutts alleged that a banned militant religious group was behind the attacks. The group reportedly aims to carry out “a sort of religious cleansing” to turn Pakistan into an Islamic theocratic state where non-Muslims must convert or leave.
The bishop has repeatedly called for the repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Perpetrators of crimes or disrespect towards the Koran or Mohammed can face life imprisonment or the death penalty in a system of summary justice.
Bishop Coutts told also said that Muslim leaders have sent many messages of condolences. He also stressed the continuing need to work towards inter-religious cooperation.
The bishop will be the chief celebrant at ACN UK’s Westminster Event at Westminster Cathedral on October 17.