Pakistan church bombing protests escalate, 10 more Christians killed

ReutersPeople from the Christian community attend a protest to condemn suicide bombings which took place outside two churches in Lahore, March 16, 2015.

A further 10 Christians have been killed in protests against Sunday's attacks on two churches in Lahore, Christian Today has learned, bringing the total death toll across the two days to more than 25.

Shamim Masih, chief reporter for the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), told Christian Today from Lahore that four Christians had been fatally shot by police and six more killed by Muslims who attacked those protesting in Yohanabad, south Lahore, today.

The Muslims were carrying sticks and beat the Christians with metal bars, he said. One woman also reportedly killed a man by running him over with her car, though it is not known whether the incident was deliberate.

Police intervened with tear gas, Masih said, but "the situation is getting worse and worse". Many Christians are now hiding in their homes behind locked doors, afraid of more attacks. Masih has done the same.

Others have continued to protest, and the demonstrations have spread throughout Pakistan. Masih said that reports of violence perpetrated by Christians today have been fabricated – they are not carrying any weapons, and overall are largely peaceful.

However, those protesting yesterday did turn to violence. Two suspects linked to the church attacks were lynched and their bodies burned. Christian Today was told that those killed were accomplices to one of the church suicide bombers. Protesters from the Christian community also blocked a nearby main road, many of them reportedly carrying clubs, car windows were allegedly smashed and a bus station was attacked.

Christians in Pakistan have been the subject of many attacks in recent years, the most violent of which was the Peshawar church bombing in September 2013 which caused 115 deaths. In the past, protests have usually been peaceful.

"They are angry," Masih said of those demonstrating over the past two days. "I can see the anger on their faces and the aggression as well, but they are helpless."

Chairman of the BPCA, Wilson Chowdhry, said that the organisation does not condone any violence and has called for a peaceful solution to the crisis. But for Pakistani Christians, this latest attack may have proved to be a step too far.

"There is a lot of hurt in the community, a lot of rage. They are still recovering from the incident in Peshawar," Chowdhry said. Christians in Lahore have been attacked before, and have reacted peacefully, but the city "has never seen that many victims before. [Militants] have burned homes but not taken lives, this time they took lives".

The frequency and intensity of attacks against Christians in Pakistan have increased in recent years, Chowdhry said. "Here we had two suicide bombers ready to attack not one, but two churches... the government does not provide the same protections to Christians as it does to other groups in Pakistan."

Sunday's bombings occurred minutes apart in Yohanabad, a majority Christian suburb of Lahore, just after worship services had taken place. St John's Catholic Church and Christ Church were targeted, with reports putting the death toll at 14, and nearly 80 wounded. The Pakistani Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Masih said that 17 people were killed, and 82 injured. 35 remain in critical condition. Maryam Bibi, a parishioner at Christ Church, told him: "As soon as the service finished I could hear firing and asked my mother to stay seated at the front of the church. Soon after there was blast at the gate and pieces of flesh and blood had sprayed across all of those in the church.

"Everywhere I looked there was broken window panes, blood, and quite morbidly, shoes were scattered across the blast site."

Masih also said that the two police officials who were supposed to be protecting the churches and worshippers on Sunday were in fact sitting in their car watching the Pakistan-Ireland cricket match on their phones. "Instead of protecting the service they were watching the match," he said. It was the swift action of volunteer security officers Zahid Masih and Akash Bashir that prevented more lives being taken in the attacks.

Hate speeches are now being made from tannoys at mosques across Lahore, inciting Muslims to attack Christians, Chowdhry said. He warned that the situation is at risk of escalating much further.

"Christians are being blamed incorrectly during a relatively peaceful [protest] and we are concerned that the violence will escalate as local mosques are not being prevented from preaching hatred," Chowdhry said. "It is imperative that churches pray for the situation now. We need God's divine intervention if peace is to be restored any time soon."

The BPCA has launched an appeal for the victims of Sunday's attack. Find out more here [Warning: graphic images]

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