Pakistan: Man caught burning Bibles as violence against Christians escalates

Pakistani police have refused to arrest a Muslim man caught burning church Bibles in a deeply "unfair" application of the law, according to a local pastor.

Akba Azhar, 26, was caught burning Bibles and other Christian literature in Victory Church, Kasur, in Pakistan's Punjab province on 6 January.

Despite taking him into custody, local police refused to file a report, thus preventing any prosecution, because he was deemed mentally unstable. However local sources insist Azhar is mentally well and have demanded he be tried under the notorious blasphemy laws of Pakistan as the man has desecrated Christian scriptures, in the same fashion as the laws have been used against Christians.

Local parishioners insist the attacks are religiously motivated despite police reports often indicating otherwiseBPCA

"The reticence of the local police constabulary to prosecute Mr Azhar illustrates their bias," said Pastor Nasir of Victory Church. "Several mentally ill Christians have been arrested for blasphemy including 11-year-old Rimsha Masih in 2012, who was visibly a minor with a severe condition.

The incident came shortly after another church in Pakistan was allegedly set alight in a "religious attack".

New Apostolic Church in Batth, 60km from Lahore, was burnt following New Year celebrations on 6 January.

Locals claim the evidence points to arson but police have insisted the fire was caused by an electricity fault.

"I showed police officials suspicious marks on the wall of the church that illustrated someone had climbed the church wall to gain entry to our church, but the Police officers just ignored my evidence and did not add the detail to their reports," said one local resident, Dildar Bhatti, who lives next to the church. "Local police officials do not cooperate with villagers."

Another local, Karamat Masih, said the fire meant "Christians are now in great fear."

"The fire illustrates that Christians are not wanted in the local area," he added.

Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British-Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) said persecution against Christians was worsening in Pakistan and criticised western governments for donating to Pakistan in their aid budgets.

"Despite promises of reform and change the situation for Christians living in Pakistan only worsens," he said in a statement.

"Inculcation of hatred towards minorities in national curriculum text books that demonise and caricature people outside of Islam, have only served to polarise society creating great schism.

"There are protections for minorities in both the constitution and legal frameworks yet these are often obviated by officials seeped in the same hatred.

"Failure by the west to improve this situation for minorities through accountable use of foreign aid budget, has only exacerbated the situation."

The BPCA is raising funds to help restore the New Apostolic Church, and replace resources at Victory Church. For more information on how to donate, click here and here.