By UCA News
By Kamran Chaudhry*
(UCA News) — Mangta Masih lost his thumb when a mob attacked his house, a day after Catholic youths were beaten in a Muslim-majority village in Okara district of Punjab province in Pakistan.
“We hid our women inside while they tried to break in. One of them grabbed me from behind and another struck with a sickle blade. I tried to prevent the blow with my right hand. I fell down and they kept beating us with batons,” the 45-year-old laborer told UCA News.
“They were armed with glass bottles, stones, axes, batons and bricks. Others used stairs to climb to our roofs and started breaking our furniture. We pleaded to spare the women but the attack continued for half an hour.”
Fear has gripped 80 Christian families of Chak 5 village after a mob of more than 200 Muslims raided their dwellings on May 15. Masih, not a surname but used to identify a male Pakistani as a Christian, is one of eight Christians with fractured bones. The local deputy superintendent of police visited the site on May 16 and assured locals of registering a first information report under Section 452 (house trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint).
“They broke the locks, grabbed our hair and pulled us out one by one. Young girls were assaulted and left with torn clothes,” stated a woman lying among the pile of wounded villagers with fractured bones.
According to Father Khalid Mukhtar, parish priest of St. Thomas Catholic Church in Chak 5, the attack was sparked following a May 14 attack on Catholic youngsters.
“The boys were cleaning the church when one of the Muslim landlords, passing by the church, accused them of throwing dust on him. They attacked the boys and then raided 15 houses of our community the next day,” said the priest.
“The weakness on the part of the administration encourages such attacks on religious minorities. The culprits are usually let off scot-free. Religion is used to settle personal scores. The locals fear another attack.”
Father Mukhtar conducted a meeting of parish committee members on May 16 at St. Thomas Church, gathered statements of the injured and filed a complaint at the local police station.
In a Facebook post, Father Khalid Rashid Asi, director of the Diocesan Commission for Harmony and Interfaith Dialogue in Faisalabad Diocese, termed it an act of terrorism. It has been shared by more than 50.
Last month two Christian nurses were detained by police after a first information report under section 295-B of the blasphemy law was made by a doctor at Civil Hospital, Faisalabad, who accused them of scratching a sticker inscribed with “Durood Shareef,” a salutation for the Prophet Muhammad. A similar mob gathered at the hospital where a staff member wounded one of the nurses in a knife attack.
In March, an Ahmadi place of worship in Garmola Virkan village in Punjab province was attacked by a mob of clerics with the help of police. They demolished the dome, minarets of the building and desecrated the Kalma (the Islamic proclamation of faith) inscribed on it.
Church leaders and human rights groups say blasphemy allegations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.
Pastor Irfan James condemned the recent attacks.
“A famous televangelist, visiting abroad, told foreign news agencies that he loves Muslims and Muslims love him. I wish someone would make such love to him. We face persecution in Pakistan every day. This is our reality,” he said.
“The families of such pastors acquire political asylum in other countries. They are lying. They should apologize to the nation.”
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Annual Report 2020, crimes and discrimination against religious minorities continued unabated.
“Pakistan’s religious minorities continue to be relegated to the status of second-class citizens, vulnerable to inherent discriminatory practices, forced conversions, and faith-based violence,” it stated.
“All religious minorities and sects — already vulnerable in Pakistan — have the right to expect that the state will protect their places of worship. The state must immediately raise a special force for this task as put forward in the historic 2014 Jillani judgement.”
The court ruling ordered the federal government to create a national council for the rights of minorities and provincial governments to create task forces for religious tolerance, protect places of worship and crack down on hate speech, among other measures.
According to the 2021 annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, conditions in Pakistan continue to worsen as “the government systematically enforced blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws and failed to protect religious minorities from abuses by non-state actors.”