Pakistani Christians to face charges in riots after church attacks

A Pakistani anti-terrorism court on Saturday ordered 88 Christians to appear before it for their alleged roles in violent riots that followed two church bombings in Lahore.

At least 15 people were killed and dozens of others were wounded in March when two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the churches while services were in progress.  Both St. John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church are located in Youhanabad, one of the country’s largest Christian neighborhoods.  The blasts triggered violent protests that resulted in the deaths of two Muslim men whom Christians had mistaken for terror suspects.

Police rounded up more than 100 Christians in connection with the riots and lynching cases. One of them was Pervaiz Sahotra, who heads a Christian political party.  His lawyer, Naseeb Anjum, said 88 people including Sahotra still remain in custody.  He said an anti-terrorism court in Lahore on Oct. 17 ordered that prosecutors produce all 88 people in a hearing scheduled for the end of the month.  “The court will frame charges against them in the next hearing,” the lawyer said.

Advocates for the detained Christians face conflicting emotions. Christians, a minority in Pakistan, were the targets of the bomb blasts, yet the retaliatory violence that followed also resulted in bloodshed.  “Look, people in our country have done bigger agitations in the past and caused much worse damage,” said Rev. Arshad Ashknaz of Christ Church said had the police who were at the scene taken timely action, the lynching could have been prevented.   He was pessimistic about the fate of the detained Christians.

Father Francis Gulzar of St John’s Catholic Church was also skeptical the detained Christians would to be released anytime soon.  The priest who is vicar general of Lahore Archdiocese demanded justice for the arrested Christians many of whom are suffering financially and psychologically.  Joseph Francis, director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, which helps persecuted Christians, said his organization is contesting the cases of 24 of the detained people.  Pakistani Taliban claimed the twin attacks on the churches in March.   (Source: UCAN)

Vatican Radio