Religious Violence Set to Escalate
in Pakistan
Christians seek to take up arms
in response to violence and discrimination

The following report is compiled from various news sources, 
including the New York Times, the Associated Press, and Religion 
News Service:

According to an Associated Press report dated 12 May, a group of 
Christians intend to take up arms to fight increasing discrimination 
in Muslim-majority Pakistan, a bishop declared Tuesday. The 
militant Christian organization, "Guardians of the Messiah," grew 
out of frustration and fear, said Bishop John Malik of the Church 
of Pakistan, which includes Presbyterians, Anglicans and 
Methodists.

"Christians from around the world will not hesitate to provide guns 
and ammunition to this organization because we have been 
victimized in Pakistan," Malik told a news conference. "Forming 
this organization is the only way we can get our rights."

The organization "will operate in the same manner" as the Sunni 
Muslim group named Guardians of the Friends of the Prophet, 
Malik said. The Sunni group has been linked to scores of sectarian 
killings, mostly of rival Shiite Muslims.

The uprising among Pakistan's Christian community began May 6 
with the suicide of Roman Catholic Bishop John Joseph, who 
killed himself to protest the death sentence of Ayub Masih, 26, 
imprisoned under a blasphemy law against Islam. The blasphemy 
law, which has been condemned by human rights groups, makes it 
a capital offense to insult Islam or its prophet, Mohammed. Masih 
had allegedly praised the Muslim heretic Salman Rushdie, author 
of The Satanic Verses, a book highly offensive to Muslims.

At the same time, both the AP and Religion News Service reported 
that the death sentence given to Masih had been suspended by a 
Pakistani court. The suspension, issued May 12 by a two-judge 
panel of the Lahore High Court, remains in effect until a full 
appeal of the sentence is decided.

The judges' decision followed two days of Muslim-Christian 
clashes following the suicide of the Catholic bishop. Reports from 
Pakistan say the charge against Masih was trumped up as part of a 
land dispute between Muslims and Christians. Meanwhile, the 
National Council of Churches has sent a letter to Pakistani Prime 
Minister Nawaz Sharif expressing regret over the death of Bishop 
John Joseph and concern for Masih.

The New York-based church group described Masih as "a man 
medically and emotionally ill as well as innocent of the charges 
brought against him by religious fanatics. ... We understand he has 
been deprived of legal help due to threats by these same fanatics 
against lawyers who might take his case." The NCC urged repeal 
of the blasphemy law "in order to create fairness and equity for all 
religious communities”" in Pakistan.

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** Religious-Liberty@xc.org
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