LAHORE: About 81pc of Pakistan’s Christians live in Punjab, mainly in the six districts of Central Punjab – Lahore, Faisalabad, Kasur, Sheikhupura, Gujranwala and Sialkot.
According to the last census, most of these Christians in Punjab live in rural areas. For the last 13 years many attacks on the Christian community have left them paralysed with fear and still awaiting justice.
Timeline of events: On Aug 9, 2002 gunmen threw grenades into a chapel on the grounds of the Taxila Christian Hospital in northern Punjab, killing four including two nurses and a paramedic, and wounding 25 men and women.
In November 2005, 3,000 militants attacked Christians in Sangla Hill and destroyed the Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and United Presbyterian churches. The attack was over allegations of violation of blasphemy laws by Yousaf Masih. The attacks were condemned by some political parties.
In February 2006, churches and Christian schools were targeted in protests over the publication of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons in Denmark, leaving two elderly women injured and many homes and properties destroyed.
On June 5, 2006, a stonemason named Nasir Ashraf was working near Lahore when he drank water from a public facility using a glass chained to the facility. He was assaulted by Muslims for “polluting the glass”. A mob developed, who beat Ashraf, calling him a “Christian dog”. Bystanders encouraged the beating because it would be a “good” deed that would help them get into heaven. Ashraf was eventually hospitalised.
In August 2006, a church and Christian homes were attacked in a village outside Lahore over a land dispute. Three Christians were seriously injured and one was missing after some 35 people burned buildings, desecrated the Bible and attacked Christians.
In 2009, the Gojra riots took place which was a series of violent attacks against Christian minorities. In June that year, the International Christian Concern reported the rape and killing of a Christian man for refusing to convert to Islam.
In 2010, a Christian woman Aasiya Bibi was sentenced to death in a blasphemy case. The original incident involved a dispute over a trivial matter at a village of Sheikhupura district.
In March 2011, only two months after Governor Salmaan Taseer was killed, when in support of Aasiya Bibi he called the law a black law, Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was killed by gunmen after he spoke out against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
The same year in April, at least 20 people including police officials were wounded as 500 demonstrators attacked the Christian community in Gujranwala city.
In March 2013, Muslims attacked a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore, where more than 100 houses were burned after a Christian was alleged to have made blasphemous remarks. The incident took place in Joseph Colony in Badami Bagh area, where Sawan Masih was accused of blasphemy.
In November 2014, a Christian couple who worked at a brick kiln in Kot Radha Kishan (Kasur), were killed brutally by being burnt to death in the kiln fire, ostensibly over blasphemy, but the case still lies in court and the reason is still not confirmed.
Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2015