Tuesday, 15 September 2009


ISLAMABAD — A rights group raised concern Monday that vigilante attacks were increasing against religious minorities in Pakistan when another church was damaged, weeks after an angry mob killed seven Christians.
About 100 people, mostly youths, attacked a Catholic church in the Sambrial district near the Indian border on Friday after accusing a young Christian man of desecrating the Koran, police said.
"They set fire to prayer mats and some religious books but the timely arrival of police prevented the situation from taking an ugly turn," local police official Rafaqat Ali told AFP by telephone.
"The church suffered no major damage," he said. Police arrested a man accused of "snatching and desecrating" a copy of the Koran from a girl while she was going to school, he added.
Pakistan's Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti visited the area Monday and vowed that the government would "reconstruct" the church.
"No one from minorities can even think of desecration of the holy Koran," he said in a statement released in English.
"Some people want to destabilise the country by doing such things, but the government will not allow anyone to play with the lives and properties of the minorities," he added.
Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law carries the death penalty although no one has ever been sent to the gallows for the crime.
Human rights activists say the legislation is often exploited for personal enmity and encourages Islamist extremism and have demanded it be repealed.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed concern Monday over the "increasing frequency of violent attacks on religious minorities" and demanded the government prosecute those responsible and act to prevent such violence.
"The Commission has been warning the government of the growing intolerance of religious minorities' rights and pointing towards the increasing frequency of vigilante actions against them.
"It is unfortunate that our fears of recurrence of such violence again proved to be true in Sambarial," said Pakistan's leading rights group.
The organisation slammed the government's offers of financial compensation and encouraging local reconciliation as "insufficient".
"The Commission would emphasise that another attack targeting the minorities is a question of when, not if, unless the government acknowledges in a meaningful manner the threat extremism and intolerance pose," it said.
"Effective prosecution would serve as a deterrent to future attacks, while a lack thereof would encourage impunity," it added.
Last month, an angry mob of Muslims torched 40 houses and a church in the remote village of Gojra in Pakistan's central Punjab province.