GOVERNMENTS in the West must intervene to demand justice be done for the victims of the “worst incident of persecution against Christians” in Pakistan – according to a priest who was on the scene when the atrocity took place.
Father Abid Tanveer, vicar general of the Diocese of Faisalabad, said international pressure was vital to ensure the prosecution of the culprits behind the attacks in Jaranwala, Punjab Province.
Media reported that on a single day a mob of 7,000 people went on the rampage in Jaranwala, and Father Tanveer said they attacked a total of 26 churches and chapels, as well as a cemetery and hundreds of homes. The bishops of Pakistan described as “the worst incident against Christians” in the country’s history.
In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Tanveer said an economically faltering Pakistan would be open to calls made by Western powers on whom it depends for trade and aid.
Speaking on a visit to ACN’s UK offices, Father Tanveer described encountering the “anger and hatred” of the mob as he entered Jaranwala on the day of the atrocity and said: “Unless justice is done, the victims of Jaranwala will never find closure. They will never feel safe. Governments in the West should call for justice. The Government in Pakistan will listen to the West because they need them in terms of aid and trade. The West should write to our government and ask why Christians in our country being persecuted and what are they doing about it.”
Within 24 hours of the atrocity on 16 August, up to 180 people were arrested as the authorities responded by sending in more than 6,000 police and paramilitary forces. Father Tanveer highlighted concerns of corruption within Pakistan’s legal system, saying there was a “50/50 chance” justice would be done for the victims of Jaranwala. He said the Christians of Jaranwala and elsewhere were still afraid: “Jaranwala has revealed how far the extremists are prepared to go in terms of destroying homes and churches.”
The priest added: “There remains an underlying fear that many people have. They are always wondering where and when the next attack will come.”
The attacks were sparked by an accusation of blasphemy against two Christian men and, in response to fears in schools of more such allegations, Father Tanveer reported that 50 students in Jaranwala had left for hostels in nearby Gojra and Yohannabad, Lahore.
Father Tanveer praised maulanas – Muslim leaders – for quickly denouncing the attacks and said it was critical for their followers to heed their message of peace and respect for religious diversity. He said: “The maulanas were very direct in their condemnation of the attacks, saying that they were fundamentally in opposition to Islam. They spoke very clearly. Their words can make a big difference, especially as they were boldly stated. The maulanas reassured us that they were with us, and that they would try their best to demand that justice would be done.”
Father Tanveer went on to thank ACN for last week’s announcement of £130,000 emergency help for Jaranwala Christians whose homes were damaged in the violence. The charity is providing clothes, kitchen appliances, bedding, mattresses and stationery for school children. “For many years, Aid to the Church in Need has been a great help to our diocese and especially so after this incident in Jaranwala. From the bottom of our hearts, we want to pay tribute to the staff and benefactors of ACN. Please be assured of our grateful prayers”, he said.