Two churches in Pakistan set on fire as a new year dawns

Two churches in Pakistan’s Punjab province were targeted in unrelated arson attacks on consecutive days 6 January and 7 January, marking a worrying start to 2016 for Pakistan’s minority Christian population.

Siddiqa Bibi went to the local church in the village of Sandha, near the city of Kasur, around 50 km (31 miles) south-east of Lahore, at 7 am on 6 January and discovered a Muslim man in his twenties burning Bibles and hymn books.

Police arrived at the scene and duly arrested the arsonist. Unusually, police inspector Tariq Cheema said that “it is a Muslim obligation to take Bible as a Holy Book and Muslims ought to respect it by all means”. The statement is surprising because police in Pakistan often side with the local Muslim population.

At the insistence of the local community, police filed a report against the perpetrator under the blasphemy laws, but police inspector Tariq Cheema has alleged that the attacker is mentally unstable.

Hours later, a church in Baath village, to the south-west of Lahore, Punjab province, was set on fire shortly after midnight.

The church had held a special worship service on the evening of 6 January, which ended at 11 pm. A neighbouring Muslim family informed Pastor Yaqub Masih that the church was on fire.

The church had erected a tent to provide extra space for the special gathering, but the tent, carpets and furniture in the church were all damaged in the fire.

Police refused to file a report of the incident and said that the fire had been caused by an electrical fault. “But,” said local Christian Dildar Masih, “there were no electric wires near the fire and none were burned. Also, the church boundary wall had footprints, suggesting someone had scaled it.”

According to Barnabas partner organisation Christian Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), local Muslims offered their solidarity in support of the targeted Christian community.

Christian TV station resumes transmission after arson attack

A Christian TV station, Gawahi TV, has resumed transmission after a suspected arson attack on 24 November in the city of Karachi.

Fire gutted the three-room offices, completely destroying cameras, computers, books and furniture. Undeterred, the station’s administration rented equipment so that it could provide broadcasts over the Christmas period. “Christmas is a time of peace, brotherhood and love and that’s why we have rented equipment to resume our transmission for the celebrations,” said CEO Sarfaraz William.

The station regularly broadcasts Bible readings, Christian hymns and videos with the intention of “spread[ing] the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people of all religions who live in Pakistan”.

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