Monday, October 29, 2001, Chandigarh, India





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18 Christians killed
Assailants spray bullets in Pak church

Relatives cry over the bodies
Relatives cry over the bodies of 15 Christians in a makeshift morgue in Bahawalpur on Sunday. — Reuters photo

Special envoy
Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, special envoy of Pope John Paul II, right, talks to Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad on Saturday. Pope John Paul II sent Cordes to Pakistan to coordinate relief efforts by the Catholic church for Afghan refugees. — AP/PTI photo

Islamabad, October 28
Eighteen persons were killed when masked gunmen sprayed bullets on a Sunday congregation at a church in Bahawalpur in south Punjab.

The gunmen, who came on motor cycles, entered the church after killing a policeman standing guard and started firing indiscriminately.

Fourteen persons were killed on the spot while three others died in the hospital before they could be attended upon. Several others who were injured were admitted to hospital.

At the time of the attack, there were 70 persons in the prayer hall. Eyewitness said, six persons came on three motor cycles to the church. While two stood outside, four entered the prayer hall and sprayed the bullets. The gunmen were chanting slogans like “Allah-u-Akbar” and “Graveyard of Christians — Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

The killings of the Christians shocked the people of Bahawalpur who rushed to the church in large numbers. No one has been arrested.

The police described it as an act of terrorism.

President Pervez Musharraf has taken serious notice of the incident and asked the new Governor of Punjab, Lieut-Gen Maqbool, to take immediate steps and arrest the culprits. Lieut-Gen Maqbool had taken over as the Governor of Punjab today.

The motorcyclists, carrying Klashnikov rifles, fled after the shooting, the police said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the incident, which sent shock waves among the minority Christian community in the country.

The government has ordered tight security around all churches in the country. The police has cordoned off Bahawalpur and its nearby areas and launched combing operations to apprehend the gunmen.

President Pervez Musharraf condemned the attack, saying that Islam stood for peace and respected rights of all minorities.

He also ordered police and security officials to launch immediate investigations and apprehend the culprits.

The attack coincides with the arrival of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who reached here this morning on a few hours’ working visit.

It also followed the visit of Pope John Paul II special envoy to Pakistan yesterday. The envoy, Archbishop Paul Joseph Cordes, met General Musharraf and discussed the present political and military situation in Afghanistan.

General Musharraf said initial investigations into today’s attack on a church by unidentifed gunmen in Bahawalpur indicates the involvement of “trained terrorist organisations” which were bent upon creating discord and disharmony in the country.

“The methods used and the inhuman tactics employed clearly indicates involvement of trained terrorists organisations bent upon creating discord and disharmony in Pakistan where Christians and Muslims have always lived in peace with mutual respect for each other,” General Musharraf said in a condolence message to the families of the 16 victims.

“I shall not comment any further on the identity of the terrorists until the investigation is concluded. I would, however, like to assure everyone that we shall track down the culprits and bring them to justice,” he said. UNI, PTIBack

 

An evil act: Pope

Vatican City, October 28
Pope John Paul condemned the murder of Christians in a Pakistani Roman Catholic Church today as “an evil act” and said he was praying for the victims and their families.

The Pope’s office sent a telegram to the Pakistan Catholic Church “expressing his absolute condemnation of this further tragic act of intolerance”.

“He expresses his prayerful closeness to all affected by this evil act and as a pledge of comfort and strength he invokes upon the entire community the blessings of almighty God,” the telegram said. Reuters
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Minorities in Pak harassed

Washington, October 28
The US State Department in its annual report on religious freedom has said that minorities in Pakistan suffer harassment, discrimination and even violence.

Some Sunni Muslim groups , publish literature calling for violence against Ahmadis and Shia Muslims and some newspapers frequently publish articles with derogatory references to religious minorities, especially Ahmadis and Hindus, the report says. There is believed to be widespread discrimination in employment. Christians have difficulty finding jobs other than those involving menial labour, although Christian activists say that the situation has improved in the private sector in recent years.

Christians and Hindus are also disproportionately represented in most oppressed social group-bonded labourers. “Illegal bonded labour,” says the report, “is widespread”. Agriculture, brick-kiln, and domestic workers are often kept virtually as slaves, the report says.

Minority groups believe they are underrepresented in government census counts. A 1974 constitutional amendment declared Ahmadis to be a non-Muslim minority. Ahmadis are prohibited from “directly or indirectly” posing as Muslims. They are also prohibited from holding any conferences or gatherings, according to the report. Religious minorities are given lesser legal protection than Muslim citizens, it says.

Under the Hadood Ordinances in effect, a non-Muslim may testify only if the victim is also a non-Muslim. Likewise, the testimony of women, Muslim or non-Muslim, is not admissible in cases involving Hadd punishments. Therefore, if a Muslim man rapes a Muslim woman in the presence of women or non-Muslim men, he cannot be convicted under the Hadood Ordinances.

The government designates religion on citizens’ passports. In order to obtain a passport, citizens must declare whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim. Muslims also must affirm that they accept the unqualified finality of the prophethood of Mohammad, declare that Ahmadis are non-Muslims, and especially denounce the founder of the Ahmadi movement.

Pakistan’s blashphemy laws, which were meant to protect both majority and minority faiths from discrimination or abuse, in practice are frequently used by rivals and the authorities to threaten, punish and intimidate religious minorities. PTIBack

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