1,000 Christians forced to sleep rough after mob violence in Pakistan

Christian homes and churches have been targeted, many being set alight.(Photo: The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement)

A thousand Christians have fled their homes and are now sleeping rough after they were targeted by rampaging mobs. 

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reports that the level of destruction in Jaranwala, near Faisalabad, has been "down to the last lightbulb". 

Churches have not been spared in this week's wave of violence. According to ACN, the number of churches and chapels targeted has risen to 21, with one source in the country who cannot be named for security reasons saying that many of them were set on fire and "nothing is left". 

The source told ACN that up to 1,000 Christians were forced to sleep in sugar cane fields after narrowly escaping rampaging mobs. 

"They had been running away, trying to find somewhere where they could rest," they said. 

"Some of them went back to their homes desperate for something to eat but when they got home, they found everything destroyed – nothing to sit on, nothing to drink out of, not even a lightbulb."

They added, "As we travelled round the area, we could see how the Christians' homes were scattered – 50 or 60 here, two or three over there and yet every Christian home has been targeted, nothing left."

Churches of all denominations have been targeted. 

The source described the carnage: "In the churches they have attacked, everything is destroyed ... the altar, statues – nothing is left. What they did to the statues of Jesus and Mary I cannot begin to describe."

In a letter to ACN, Pakistani Archbishop Benny Travas criticised the government and authorities for failing to protect Christians. 

He said that the violence showed that Christians in Pakistan are "in reality second-class citizens to be terrorised and frightened at will". 

"Once again, we have the same old condemnations and visits by the politicians and other government officials expressing their solidarity with the Christian community and that 'justice will be done' but in reality nothing materialises and all is forgotten," he said. 

Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, and President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, condemned the "abhorrent" violence. 

"I urgently call upon the Punjab Government to take swift, decisive and resolute action against those responsible for perpetrating this heinous act. The culprits must be identified, apprehended and brought to justice," he said. 

A partner of Release International who cannot be named for security reasons reports that many Christian families have sought refuge outside the city and are relying on the support of friends and relatives.

The partner said: "It is deplorable to see the peace-loving Pakistani Christian community once again being collectively punished at mere unsubstantiated allegations of blasphemy.

"We are appalled by the lack of response by the Pakistan government despite the sheer magnitude of this violence."

The Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop Azad Marshall tweeted: "Words fail me. We, bishops, priests and lay people are deeply pained and distressed at the Jaranwala incident.

"A church building is being burnt 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.

"We cry out for justice and action from law enforcement and those who dispense justice and the safety of all citizens to intervene immediately."