Pakistan: Violent protests erupt after church bombings
Violent protests erupted in Pakistan on Monday following the death of 14 people in two suicide bomb attacks on churches in Lahore yesterday. Two suspects were lynched and their bodies burned by protesters yesterday.
Around 5,000 Christians demonstrated on the streets of city in the east of the country today, criticising the government's failure to protect them. "We are on the roads to get justice, we want protection," one protester told AFP.
"There was no proper security on Sunday, the government should protect all churches."
The attacks occurred minutes apart in a majority Christian suburb of Lahore during Sunday worship services. St John's Catholic Church and Christ Church were targeted, killing at least 14 people and wounding almost 80 others. The Pakistani Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Yesterday Christians gathered at the scene of the bombings to protest the lack of security, and the crowd attacked two men accused of being involved in the incidents. Both men were killed by the mob, and photographs from Reuters show their bodies being set alight. Christian Today was told that the two men were accomplices to the suicide bomber who attacked St John's.
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said that his 27-year-old cousin was badly injured in the church bombings. He was worshipping at the Catholic church when a man entered the building holding an incendiary device. Chowdhry's cousin and another man grabbed the assailant and pinned his arms up so he could not explode the device. A gunman then shot the device off from a distance, causing it to explode. It was this gunman and his accomplice who were later murdered by Christians outside the church, Chowdhry said.
Protesters also blocked a nearby main road, many of them reportedly carrying clubs, and cars and a bus station were attacked. According to AFP, more than 1,000 police were deployed but the situation remained mostly calm.
The protests have spread to other cities across eastern Pakistan, including Faisalabad, Sargodha and Gujranwala. In Faisalabad, demonstrators burnt tires and attacked a rickshaw.
Christian community leader Kamran Michael has called for protesters to remain peaceful.
All Christian schools in Lahore were closed today, and prayer services and funerals are being held throughout the city.
Christians and other religious minorities have been attacked numerous times by Islamist militants in Pakistan over the past decade. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said in its 2014 report that Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom outside of those countries designated by the US government as "countries of particular concern".
Sectarian violence meant conditions "hit an all-time low" for religious minorities, the report concluded, noting that perpetrators of violence against Christians are rarely held to account.
Rev Fr Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, National Director of The National Commission for Justice and Peace and Executive Director Cecil Shane Chaudhry, has condemned Sunday's attacks. "We as a nation need to stand with the families of the victims and stop extremism jointly; this misuse of religion as an excuse to kill minority should be stopped," he said in a statement.
"We demand that provincial and federal government take serious and effective measure to protect minority community of Pakistan."
Chowdhry, said the incident is "symptomatic of the hatred and vilification that Christians and other minorities face in Pakistan.
"My heart aches for my brothers and sisters in Pakistan who are undergoing such extreme persecution. The global Church has to speak out for this voiceless community or their suffering is set to get worse," he said.
The BPCA has launched an appeal for the victims of Sunday's attack. Find out more here [Warning: graphic images]