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Mon. May 27th, 2024

Christians sat among the rubble of their ransacked church for the first Sunday service since a Muslim mob rampaged through their neighborhood in eastern Pakistan.

More than 80 Christian homes and 19 churches were vandalized in an hours-long riot in Jaranwala in Punjab province on Wednesday, after allegations that a Koran had been desecrated spread through the city.

On Sunday, around 200 Christians sat in chairs set up in a narrow alley alongside the main Salvation Army Church — its cross still missing after being ripped down by the crowds.

“We used to come here without any fear but today we need the police,” 29-year-old housewife Nosheen Farman, who cannot yet return to her burned home, told AFP.

“We did not bring our children, the ones who we teach that they must come to church.”

A choir girl sang alongside a tabla player, as dozens of security personnel guarded the area.

The crowds joined their hands together in prayer, except to occasionally wipe their eyes.

Many of the attendees had come from surrounding cities to show support.

While the church was too damaged to host the service, Christians entered in small groups to survey the blackened windows and cracked ceilings.

“After the recent incident, we have a lot of security doubts. We are wondering whether we are safe or not, said 32-year-old Sara Ejaz, a teacher who is staying with relatives nearby.

“Is this our country or not?”

  • Horror of fleeing –

Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and its Prophet Mohammed can provoke death at the hands of vigilantes.

Christians, who make up around two percent of the population, occupy one of the lowest rungs in Pakistani society and are frequently targeted with spurious blasphemy allegations.

Hundreds of Christians fled the violence in Jaranwala, many unable to return yet — their houses gutted and broken contents strewn across the street.

Most of them are sanitary workers on meagre wages who occupy cramped homes shared by up to 18 people.

Some are sheltering at a government school or staying with relatives while the local government has promised to rebuild them.

“These buildings and houses will be restored, but it will be difficult for girls and children to come out of this trauma. They will always remember the terror they faced, that they had to flee their own homes,” said 44-year-old Samson Salamat.

More than 125 people have been arrested linked to the vandalism, with 12 others being investigated for using mosque loudspeakers to call people to protest, Punjab police chief Usman Anwar told AFP on Friday.

Two Christian brothers have also been arrested for blasphemy, accused of desecrating the Koran.

by Natasha Zai

©️ Agence France-Presse

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