Hate campaign root of violence against minorities, say Pakistan Churches

Jan 17, 2003 12:13 PM EST

New Delhi, -- Church leaders in Pakistan say ongoing attacks on Christian and other minorities is a fall-out of unchecked hatred against the minorities.

The National Council of Churches of Pakistan (NCCP) this week endorsed a statement the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic church issued expressing "deep concern over hate speech and provocation of religious frenzy against non-Muslims".

"We share the fears expressed by the Catholic church," said Victor Azariah, NCCP general secretary.

The statements followed an attack on Christmas Day by assailants clad in traditional Muslim dress who hurled a hand grenade into a small Protestant church in Chianwala, 70 kilometres north-west of Lahore, killing three girls, ages 6, 10 and 15, and seriously injuring more than a dozen worshippers.

On Saturday in Lahore, more than 100 Pakistani Christians rallied, calling on police to arrest the church bombers, the Associated Press reported. The Commission for Justice and Peace statement said: "The policy of turning a blind eye on hate crimes has resulted in destruction of churches and temples and the deaths of thousands of innocent citizens in the name of religion."

Religious minorities account for less than 5 per cent of the 140 million people in Muslim-dominated Pakistan. The anti-minority hate campaign, the statement said, had continued "for decades through public rallies, sermons, text-books, print and electronic media". This had created an atmosphere that could trigger actions like the Christmas attack. Christians have expressed fears that the Chianwala attack was the result of continued hate-speeches against Christians by the cleric in charge of the local mosque.

"Preaching of hatred [against minorities] creates intolerance. It sparks a violent response from those who get carried away by such propaganda," Archbishop Lawrence Saldana of Lahore, chairman of the Justice and Peace Commission, said in an interview.

Leaders of all churches will meet in Islamabad on 16 January to discuss ways to avert the current dangers.

Five major attacks on church targets in Pakistan had claimed more than three dozen lives since October 2001 when the United States and its allies launched attacks on perceived terrorist targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan's neighbour.

By Anto Akkara