By Jawad Mazhar Special Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Pakistan
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife) -- An uneasy calm returned Monday, October 15, to the village of Gowindhi, near Pakistan's second largest city of Lahore, after a violent mob of Muslims "ransacked and desecrated" the local evangelical New Apostolic Faith church, rights investigators said.
"A Muslim mob mounted on the roof of the church and hurled down its loud speakers," on Wednesday October 10, said Khalid Gill, the regional director for Pakistan's Punjab province of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), a major advocacy group.
"The mob of Muslim extremists also tried to destroy the boundary walls of the church and put manure on them." They allegedly ripped up the Bible's Book of Psalms and other Christian literature in the church. They also destroyed all the musical instruments, which were used during the praise and worship, Gill said.
Suspects were still at large Monday, October 15, apparently because local police refused to take action against them. Officials were not immediately available for comment. A 26-year-old Christian youth Sattar Masih witnessing the attack said he had informed the church's pastor, identified as Pastor Pervaiz, about the Muslim attack at the church.
The pastor contacted police, but they "blatantly refused" to take action against the militants, local Christians and investigators said. A delegation of local Christian leaders, including a former member of Lahore's district's council, protested the refusal by police to intervene. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Gill said police officials have been "forcing" local Christians and their leadership to reconcile themselves with Muslim hardliners. The latest attack underscored religious tensions in the region. Muslim shopkeepers of Gowindhi village, apparently encouraged by Muslim militants, have reportedly stopped selling kitchen and other house hold items to Christian residents in the village.
Christians in other parts of Pakistan have also complained about violence and some have received threats because of their refusal to embrace Islam, several rights groups say. Barnabas Fund, which investigates reports of persecution of Christians in especially Muslim nations, told BosNewsLife that in one recent incident a church-run girls' school in the area of Swat in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province was closed last month "after a letter from Islamic militants threatened to attack the school if it remained open."
Barnabas Fund said, "The letter accused the staff of trying to convert Muslim girl students to Christianity." It also "criticized Muslim parents for allowing their daughters to attend [the school] and urged them to send them instead to Islamic madrassas," Barnabas Fund added. Parents have reportedly condemned the letter, and police set up a 24-hour guard at the school, which re-opened on September 17.
In addition a bomb exploded at a Christian school in Bannu, also in North West Frontier Province, in the early hours of September 15. No one was reportedly injured and despite the damage to the building, the school has continued. Some groups have linked the increased attacks against Christians in Pakistan to the government's support to the US-led war on terror. Christians are often viewed by militants as supporting the United States, analysts say.
Barnabas Fund said the attacks against Pakistani Christians and churches also include legal challenges. "Various Pakistani politicians have attempted to reform the blasphemy lawâ€ which could lead to long prison terms for Christians, "but threats from Muslim extremists have always prevented any substantial amendments from being put in place."
It said it was especially concerned about the situation of two elderly Christians held on blasphemy charges, James Masih, 70, and Buta Masih, 85.
In a letter Barnabas Fund urged its supporters to "Pray that God will sustain them, and that they will soon be acquitted and released."
Christians comprise less than three percent of Pakistan's population of roughly 165 million people, most of whom are Muslims, according to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (Read more from Jawad Mazhar on the Web: www.raysofdevelopment.org)
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