Christian families have been forced to flee from a Pakistani village in Punjab province after Protestants there were attacked by an armed mob as they prepared for an evangelistic meeting earlier in the week, reports Compass Direct News.
According to the victims’ lawyer, Khalil Tahir Sindhu, at least 41 men armed with guns, axes and wooden sticks attacked the Christians at their Salvation Army church in Chak 248, north of Faisalabad, on the evening of Sunday 17 June.
Seven Christians were left injured by the attack, which Sindhu said was prompted by their refusal to give in to demands from armed Muslims the previous day to cancel their evangelistic meeting.
“They had just put up posters advertising the event two or three days before, so this is what triggered the attack,” Sindhu told Compass from Faisalabad.
Sindhu described how the mob attacked the Christians with axes and wooden sticks, leaving some of them with fractured bones, and fired their pistols into the air to cause further panic. He said that many of the church’s books were ruined during the attack and alleged that one Muslim had been injured as the Christians fought back their attackers.
One Muslim resident in Chak 248, Abdel Ghafoor, submitted a First Information Report earlier in the week, in which he claimed that four Christian men had started the fighting by throwing rubbish at the home of Muslim Abdel Hammad before attacking and injuring him when he began to protest.
The local police have also registered a case from the side of the Christians, despite initial foot-dragging, according to Sindhu. He added that almost all of the Christian men from the village have fled in order to escape revenge attacks, while the few that have chosen to remain now fear for their safety. Sindhu is helping to house and feed 28 Christians from Chak 248 who are afraid to return to the village.
Christian politicians have come out in support of the Christian victims and have vowed to increase their lobbying efforts to ensure that the case is not dropped, according to Compass.
“We all condemn this tragic event,” former district assembly member Shahid Arif told Compass.
Catholic priest Aftab James Paul responded to the attack from Faisalabad, where he leads inter-religious dialogue for the diocese. He warned that large parts of Pakistani society continue to victimise minorities.
“The whole education system is like that, the media, both print and electronic, and the Muslim religious clergy also teach negative things,” Paul said. “The whole atmosphere in this country is anti-minorities and anti-poor. All the weak sections of society are victimised.”
He called on Christians to join in prayer for the Pakistani church on Friday 22 June because a lot of violence occurs after midday prayers at the mosque on Fridays.
“All Muslims are not bad. In fact most of them are very good and want peace and harmony,” he said.
Rather, the problem lies with Muslim fanatics. “To change the hearts and minds of these people is very difficult. It’s not impossible, but I don’t know how long it will take.”