Pakistan Christians Demand Separate Province After Violence

By BosNewsLife Asia Service

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Homes were attacked and burned in Lahore's Christian neighborhood.


LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- Christians demand a separate province in Pakistan after as many as 180 Christian-owned homes, shops and two churches were burned down by an angry Muslim mob in the city of Lahore.

A Christian-ruled province could have avoided incidents such as last week's attacks against Lahore's  Joseph Colony, a Christian neighborhood, said activists and politicians talking to BosNewsLife.

"We request all Christian political, religious and civil society leaders to raise their voice... for a separate province for Christians, where we can live without fear of the majority's [Islamic]  faith and concepts" added the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) group and the Pakistan  Christian Congress (PCC) party.

Under the plan, Punjab province would be divided in four parts, including one for minority Christians and the others for Sunni Muslims and the Hazara and Seraiki communities.

BAIL APPLICATION

The appeal came while Christian lawyers tried to free Sawan Masih, 26, whose alleged "derogatory remarks" about Islam's Prophet Muhammad sparked riots in Joseph Colony, BosNewsLife learned Saturday, March 16.

"We will try to get bail for the Christian young man on Monday," said attorney Mushtaq Gill, the director of LEAD.

Masih has denied the charges, said his brother Saleem Masih in published remarks. "My brother is innocent, he has not committed any blasphemy."

Gill said he spoke with several "weeping" familie members, including Sawan Masih's father "who fears for the  future of Christians" in the region.

"His sister, wife and three children also wept as they are worried about Masih who is still in prison," Gill explained.

HEATED EXCHANGE

Residents said the problems began Friday, March 8, when Masih was refused a hair cut by the local barber shop's Muslim owner, Imran Shahid, triggering a heated exchange about religion between the two men.

Shahid, accompanied by supporters, reportedly told police that "drunk Sawan Masih made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad", prompting his detention later that day and the torching of Christian properties.

He became the latest to be detained under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy legislation, which can carry a death sentence.

At least 16 people are on death row for blasphemy and another 20 are serving a life sentences, according to advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

FAITH CLASH

"Only followers of Muhammad have right to say whatever they wish to say and preach, but Christians have no such right," in heavily Islamic Pakistan, Gill complained. "Christians have no religious liberty and are not free to preach and teach according to Biblical faith," he added.

"This is not due to only political matters but this is due to a clash of faith. The solution of this tense situation is that the demand of a separate province for Pakistani Christians," is respected, he said.

There have been negotiations about this issue with authorities, but it remained unclear whether the latest incidents would speed up an agreement in the volatile region.

Over half of Pakistan's roughly 90 million people live in Punjab, with Lahore as its capital.



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