Massacre in Pakistan condemned

CHRISTIAN SOLIDARITY WORLDWIDE
For immediate release
October 29 2001

The massacre of 17 people at a church service by suspected Islamic
extremists highlights the dangers faced by Christian believers in Pakistan.

Four masked gunmen, believed to be Pro-Taleban Muslims, opened fire with
machineguns on the congregation at the Roman Catholic church at Bahawalpur
as they gathered on Sunday morning.

After killing the security guard on the gate, they murdered 16 worshippers,
including women and children, and injured a further 25 in the worst attack
in Pakistan's recent history.

According to eyewitnesses, the gunmen shouted "Graveyard of Christians -
Pakistan and Afghanistan" and "This is just a start."

The military action taken by the coalition led by the US Government has
provoked mass rallies in support of the Taleban in Pakistan and Christians
have feared reprisals since the bombing began.

President Musharraf called a meeting with Christians earlier this month to
give them his personal assurance of protection after isolated attacks on
Christians in Peshawar and Quetta near the Afghanistan border.

This meeting led to police guards being posted at places of worship
including at the Bahawalpur church used by both Catholics and Protestants.

Cecil Chaudry, a member of the Executive Committee of the Justice and Peace
Commission of the Catholic Bishop's Conference and based in Lahore, said:
"The Government had taken adequate precautions against mob violence, but
this was a pre-meditated act of terrorism.

"The Government knows where the strongholds of extremist groups are which
they banned and we would ask that they keep a closer watch on them and
provide better protection for the institutions, lives and property of
Christians and other minority faiths."

Christians have set up a National Communication Network to liase with local
authorities and inter-faith conferences have already taken place.

Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan are discriminated
against under the electoral system as well as under the blasphemy laws.

Ayub Masih, who made legal history when his appeal against the death penalty
was turned down by the High Court in July, is in prison in Multan, 100km
north of Bahawalpur.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide met with Christians in Shantinagar, 80km from
Bahawalpur in 1997 just one week after a mob looted and destroyed 1,500
homes.

The area also has a history of tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslim
extremists and hundreds of Muslims have died in sectarian violence since
partition.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said: "We
strongly condemn this unprovoked attack against the Christian community in
Pakistan and pray for those who have lost loved ones.

"We call on President Musharraf to bring those responsible to justice and to
reassure Christians of the state's protection at this particularly dangerous
time."

CSW is aware of an increased number of attacks against Christians around the
world after the bombing campaign in Afghanistan began.

Christians in Indonesia and Nigeria have suffered violence at the hands of
Muslim extremists who perceive them to have links with the West due to their
faith.

For more information contact Richard Chilvers at Christian Solidarity
Worldwide on 020 8949 0587 or 020 8942 8810 or email
richard.chilvers@csw.org.uk


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