By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
LONDON/LAHORE (BosNewsLife)-- Influential South Asian Christians urged Britain on Tuesday, March 17, to pressure Pakistan's government to protect Christians after Sunday's bombings of two churches in Lahore left 17 people dead and more than 70 injured.
The appeal by the South Asian Forum of the Evangelical Alliance (SAF), which represents millions of evangelical Christians, and the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) came while hundreds of Pakistani Christians attended funerals for the victims of the attacks in the Youhanabad area of Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city.
Maryam Bibi, a member of the attacked Protestant Christ Church, said the attacks happened soon after the church service. "I could hear guns firing and I asked my mother to stay seated at the front of the church. Soon after there was a blast at the gates and pieces of flesh and blood sprayed across all of those in the church," Bibi said in published remarks.
“Everywhere I looked there were broken window panes, blood and shoes scattered across the blast site.”
Protests following the bombings also ended in violence and Priest Gulzar of the attacked St John’s Catholic Church was quoted as saying that police "brutally beat many protesters" leading to riots in which four Christian men were killed.
Witnesses also said however that an angry crowd, calling themselves Christians, were seen lynching to alleged suspects in the attacks.
THOUSANDS SECURITY FORCES
A reported 5,000 police and paramilitary rangers were deployed on Tuesday, March 17,
in an effort to prevent further rioting. The main road into the district was seen being closed with rails and barbed wire, but the Christian groups said Pakistan's govermment should provide more security.
And Britain, as the second largest foreign aid contributor to Pakistan, should ensure that part of this funding goes to the protection of minority groups such as Christians, said SAF and BPCA in a statement to BosNewsLife.
The country provided over 300 million pounds ($440 million) to Pakistan last year, the groups noted.
"These attacks are becoming more and more frequent and the Pakistani government must protect Christians," said Manoj Raithatha, SAF's national coordinator. The official added that Britain and the international community "need to wake up to the violence that is being perpetrated and take decisive steps immediately to put pressure on Pakistan to stop these attacks.”
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the BPCA, said Sunday's attacks "on an innocent Christian community" is "symptomatic of the hatred and vilification that Christians and other minorities face in Pakistan," a heavily Muslim nation.
“My heart aches for my brothers and sisters in Pakistan who are undergoing such extreme persecution," the official said.
"The global Church has to speak out for this voiceless community or their suffering is set to get worse,” Chowdhry added.
Besides calling for action from the Pakistani and British governments, the two groups of South Asian Christians said they were "asking the Church to join together in prayer for the victims and their families, the churches in Lahore and for calm on the streets in the wake of these attacks."
The British Pakistani Christian Association said it also initiated a petition calling on the Pakistani government to put a stop to the violence towards Christians.