Violence against Christians in Pakistan on the rise

(AP)
Pakistani Christians chant slogans during a protest to condemn a suicide bombing on a church, in Peshawar, Pakistan, the deadliest attack ever in the country against members of the Christian faith.

More than 120 Christians have died in the last year as a result of targeted religious violence in Pakistan, a new report confirms.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom collated statistics of publicly-reported attacks and has found that violence against Christian communities has risen substantially in recent months.

Seven Christians were killed in attacks between June 2012 and June 2013 in Pakistan, while in the following 12 months that figure leapt to 128.

"The body count of Christians jumped due to the attack on All Saints Church in Peshawar in September 2013," the report notes.

At least 119 people were killed when two suicide bombers carried out an attack following a service at the church. Islamic extremist group TTP Jundullah, which has links to the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the blast, which was the deadliest attack on Christians in Pakistani history.

The most targeted religious group in Pakistan, however, is not Christians, but Shia Muslims. More than 220 Shias have been murdered over the past 12 months; 29 of them in targeted shootings, and 11 in targeted bombings.

According to the report, the total number of attacks against religious groups has, in fact, decreased, but "they remain alarmingly high".

"The findings of the Project show that religious-based violence continues to persist, with little to no effective Pakistani government response at federal, provincial, or local levels," the report continues.

"While the attacks occurred in the context of general episodes of violence confronting the entire country, the overall climate for religious freedom continues to deteriorate... Regarding attacks on religious groups, the government failed to take steps to hold perpetrators accountable or protect the vulnerable."

Pakistan is currently eighth on Open Doors' list of countries in which Christians are most violently persecuted for their faith.

According to Open Doors' World Watch List, "there is a high degree of impunity regarding acts of violence against Christians" in Pakistan, and forced-conversions are not unusual."

The blasphemy laws in particular have been blamed for increasing inter-religious tensions across the country.

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