Members of the Christian community carry the coffin of Pastor William Siraj during his funeral at the All Saints Church, Peshawar, on Monday. — White Star
Members of the Christian community carry the coffin of Pastor William Siraj during his funeral at the All Saints Church, Peshawar, on Monday. — White Star

PESHAWAR: Slain priest Pastor William Siraj was laid to rest here on Monday amid investigation by the counter-terrorism department into the gun attack.

He was targeted in his moving car by two gunmen on a motorcycle on the Ring Road in the limits of the Gulbahar police station. The attack left another priest injured.

The last rites of William Siraj were performed at the All Saints Church here, where members of the Christian community, including his family members, showed up in large numbers.

He was later laid to rest in the Wazir Bagh Christian cemetery.

PM aide Ashrafi visits church, says such attacks fuelling Islamophobia

Also in the day, special assistant to the prime minister on religious harmony Maulana Tahir Ashrafi visited Saint John’s Church and met leaders of the Christian community to condole the killing of the priest. Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, bishop of the Diocese of Peshawar, was also present there.

Mr Ashrafi told reporters that the priest’s killing was not an attack on some individual, sect or religion and instead, it was an attack on entire Pakistan.

He said such incidents were creating problems for Muslims across the world by fuelling Islamophobia.

He said the federal and provincial governments and all law-enforcement agencies stood firm with their Christian brethren and would bring those involved in the killing of the priest to the task.

Accompanied by religious scholars from other sects, the PM’s aide said the misuse of blasphemy law in the country had reduced to a great extent due to the government’s efforts.

“No case of the misuse of blasphemy law has been reported in the country during the last one year,” he said.

Mr Ashrafi said the priest attack was meant to cause fear and chaos in the country and damage the country’s image abroad.

He said an Islamic scholar was shot dead in Peshawar a week ago, while a Sikh was also shot dead here.

Mr Ashrafi said attempts were also being made to stoke sectarian hatred in the country.

He, however, said investigations were going on into the attack and facts related to it would come out soon.

“Members of all sects and faiths have paid a heavy price for the restoration of peace in the country and it is responsibility of all Pakistanis to maintain this peace,” he said.

The PM’s aide said protection of the minorities in an Islamic country was responsibility of the state as well as all Muslims.

“Pakistan has paid great price for the restoration of religious dialogue,” he said.

Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters thanked Maulana Ashrafi and provincial government and police department for ‘standing with Christians during the current hour of trial’.

Meanwhile, the CTD registered an FIR of the attack on the complaint of survivor Patrick Naeem as part of investigation.

Mr Naeem said two men on a motorcycle opened fire on the car used by him and the deceased to return home after attending a service at the church.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) condemned the priest’s killing.

In a statement, the HRCP said it saw the attack as a ‘blatant one not only on Pakistan’s Christian community but on all religious minorities, whose right to life and security of person remains under constant threat’.

“We are especially concerned that amid signs of growing radicalisation across the country, religious minorities will become increasingly relegated to the margins, and violence against their communities allowed to continue with impunity,” it said.

The statement said it had been eight years since the Supreme Court judgment given by Justice Tassaduq Jillani in 2014 laid down concrete measures for the state to protect the rights of religious minorities.

“More than ever, the ethos of this judgment must be understood and pursued by all arms of the state, which includes promptly investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of violence against religious minorities, if Pakistan is to roll back the damage done by the rise of the far right,” it said.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2022

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