ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– At least 18 people were injured Wednesday, April 3, when angry Muslims attacked a dozen Christian shops and churches in Pakistan’s city of Gujranwala, Christians told BosNewsLife.
Among the seriously injured people was one man who was earlier reported to have died, but he survived, investigators said.
The violence in the city’s Francis Colony area followed Muslim anger about Easter Sunday prayers in local churches and a dispute among Muslim and Christian youngsters over loud music, BosNewsLife established.
Adding to tensions was a Muslim cleric who rebuked Christian boys for “disrespecting Islam” by playing music on their mobile phones near a mosque, residents said.
Tuesday’s fighting between Muslim and Christian boys soon spiraled out of control with local imams reportedly using mosque loudspeakers to encourage violence against “Christian infidels.”
On Wednesday, April 3, the area turned into a war zone, with police apparently firing with live ammunition at rioters and heavily armed Muslim mobs shooting back at security forces and Christians.
“At least one Christian man nearly died after he was seriously wounded by shooting and fighting, but he survived following hospital treatment,” added Sardar Mushtaq Gill, director of Christian advocacy group Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD).
More details about the injured man were not immediately available, but LEAD said it was investigating. “It is not yet clear whether he was shot by a Muslim mob or police,” Gill said.
He said at least 18 people were injured including several with bullet wounds, who were rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Christian-owned shops and churches were targeted and more than a dozen cars, buses and other vehicles were set on fire, Christians and investigators said.
Gill acknowledged there were also clashes between Muslims and Christians armed with sticks but claimed the Christian community “was defending” itself.
“LEAD strongly condemns this attack and demands that government takes strong steps to control such incidents,” he said.
“We demand more security for Christians in Pakistan, who have been attacked with fire arms, clubs and stones.”
Those sentiments were shared by local Christian leaders who appealed to police to detain attackers.
Police said they were trying to resolve the conflict by opening talks with local communities.
However the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC) party accused police of involvement in violence against Christians.
“The police also fired live rounds and tear gas on peaceful Christians who gathered in Francis Colony to demand justice and action against Muslim attackers,” said the PCC-backed Pakistan Christian Post publication.
Francis Colony is said to be one of the largest Christian settlements in Gujranwala — some 80 kilometers outside the provincial capital Lahore — with a population of about 2,000 families.
The violence comes nearly a month 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.
Those riots were triggered by reports that a young man, Savan Masih, committed blasphemy against Islam, charges he strongly denied.
The latest violence has underscored concerns among rights group over a growing number of attacks related to blasphemy allegations against minority Christians.
However there was some good news for at least one believer: A Pakistani appeals court on Wednesday, April 3, overturned the conviction and death sentence of Younis Masih, a Christian man who spent nearly eight years behind bars on charges of ‘blasphemy’.
Masih, 34, was sentenced in May 2007 in the city of Lahore for making “derogatory remarks” about Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.
He was to embrace his wife and four children soon, said Gill, who is also his attorney.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).