Mob attacks Pakistani Christians for setting up Easter banner

Pakistan's Christian community protest against satirical French weekly Charlie Hebdo, which featured a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad as the cover of its first edition since an attack by Islamist gunmen, in Peshawar January 18, 2015.Reuters/Fayaz Aziz

At least seven Pakistani Christians were left injured after a mob attacked a church service on Sunday when church elders tried to install a signboard to mark the upcoming Easter festival outside the church.

Pastor Haleem Feroze Masih, who leads the King Jesus Church in Burewala, said that he was conducting the service when at least 15 men led by a man identified as Muhammad Sharif entered the church compound at 1:00pm and attacked the congregation.

He said that the attack came after a dispute outside the church over the installation of an Easter banner.

"Some of our church elders were trying to install a flex signboard in connection with the upcoming Easter festival on the wall in front of the church but they were stopped by Sharif's sons," the pastor said, according to Morning Star News.

"Sharif is a local tough who has previously grabbed a piece of the Christian cemetery in our colony and built a cattle shed on the graves. He is also running a gambling den and is known to patronize criminals," he added.

Morning Star News reported that Sharif had installed a sign on the wall in front of the church building in Burewala's New Christian Colony last Christmas. Some church members were reportedly concerned about the banner because it contained the photos and phone numbers of Sharif, his sons and others.

Masih said that when he and other church elders tried to take down the sign last Sunday to replace it with their own, Sharif's sons stopped them and tore the church's sign into pieces.

"One of our church elders told the Muslims that they had desecrated biblical verses inscribed on the flex sign, to which they responded that, 'We are bigger than your Jesus,'" he said.

The pastor recounted that the mob proceeded to the church compound and attacked the church members with batons and bricks. He claimed that some of the assailants opened fire on members who were trying to escape and even pelted stones at the police officers who tried to defuse the situation.

Despite resistance from the assailants, Masih said that the police have managed to arrest Sharif, his sons and another unidentified man from the scene.

The police have registered a First Information Report against 10 Muslims, including Sharif, three of his sons and 11 others.