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'We cry out' Pakistan bishop as churches set alight over alleged Koran burning

by Premier Journalist

Christians in Jaranwala in Pakistan have been returning to their homes, after a violent attack which saw up to 20 churches and dozens of Christian homes burned and looted.  The attack by a violent mob of Mulsims was prompted by a rumour that a copy of the Koran had been desecrated by a Christian man. 

John Pontifex from Aid to the Church in Need tells Premier: "All of this was sparked by an alleged blasphemy case against a Christian cleaner, whose home I understand has been destroyed... One of the people that I spoke to described how you could hear from the loudspeakers of the local mosques, basically calls for Christians, or as they're known, 'dirty people', to be killed.  This is very frightening for the local people, whose only crime it would seem is that they're Christian."

Despite the large-scale destruction, there were no reported casualties. John Pontifex says that's because fellow Muslims had warned their Christians neighbours, in advance of the attack, and gave them time to move to safer places:

"It's worth saying that we have a huge amount of gratitude to offer to those Muslim communities who gave the Christians a tip off about the about the impending attack, and thereby enabled people to escape... if it hadn't been for the kindness of those who let their neighbours know that something awful was about to happen. This story could have been even worse."

In the wake of the violent attacks in Pakistan, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Bishop Anthony Poggo, has called for justice to be served: 

“I am deeply saddened and shocked to hear the news of attacks on Christians and churches in the Faisalabad district in Pakistan. I have been in contact with Bishop Azad and join him in calling for justice and action from law enforcement.  Christians and other religious communities are being unjustly persecuted as a result of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Pray with me for the safety of all of Pakistan’s citizens.”

Christians, who make up about 2 percent of Pakistan's population, are frequently targeted in acts of violence in Pakistan.  The country is largely Muslim, and numbers around 248 million people.  The latest attacks occurred in the town of Jaranwala, which is in the Diocese of Faisalabad. Reports state that six churches, including a Catholic church and Presbyterian church, have been burned and clergy attacked.  Local police have faced criticism for being slow to react.

Bishop of Raiwind and Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, The Most Revd Dr Azad Marshall, said in a statement: “Words fail me as I write this. We, Bishops, Priests and lay people are deeply pained and distressed at the Jaranwala incident in the Faisalabad District in Pakistan. A church building is being burned as I type this message. Bibles have been desecrated and Christians have been tortured and harassed having been falsely accused of violating the Holy Koran.” 

He continued: “We cry out for justice and action from law enforcement and those who dispense justice and the safety of all citizens to intervene immediately and assure us that our lives are valuable in our own homeland that has just celebrated independence and freedom.”

Meanwhile the terrorist threat level in Sweden has been raised by authorities there, after threats of violence from Muslim fundamentalist groups.  Copies of the Koran were desecrated by anti-Islam activists earlier this year, drawing swift criticism from Pope Francis who said he was 'disgusted' by actions which showed disrespect of other people's beliefs.

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