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Catholic prelate appeals peace and justice after mob attacks against Christians in Pakistan

The head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan called for peace and urged authorities to hold accountable those behind the attacks on Christians.

“Each time these incidents happen, there is no example of a punishment given to these people, and that’s why these things, they are happening again,” said Archbishop Joseph Arshad in an interview with Vatican News.

At least 800 homes and over 30 churches were vandalized and destroyed after a Muslim mob rampaged through the streets on 16 August.

The incident stemmed from an accusation of blasphemy against two Christians – Raja Amir Saleem and Rocky Saleem. 

The two have been charged under sections 295 B and C for purportedly desecrating the holy Quran and penning derogatory remarks about the revered Prophet Muhammad.

On August 20, more than 700 Pakistani Christians gathered in a “Special Day of Prayer” in Jaranwala CIty despite the threat of another anti-Christian riot. 

“We called for this day of prayer because we need to pray for Pakistan. We need to pray for what is happening in our society,” said Archbishop Arshad.

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The prelate condemned the “misuse” of the country’s blasphemy law, adding that the problem in Pakistan is that “the people take the law into their hands”.

Christians continue to face discrimination in Pakistan. Many have been accused of blasphemy without concrete evidence and a mere suspicion could result to violent attacks.

Human rights groups said the law is arbitrarily used against religious minorities.

Nury Turkel, chairperson of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, said, “Blasphemy prosecutions demonstrate a blatant disregard for human rights, and are often used to target members of religious communities and others who hold different or dissenting views.”

Archbishop Arshad said the country needs “education” and “awareness”. He said, “Respect for each other’s religion is to be promoted.” 

“These measures can help the society to become better. And naturally, the government should effectuate strict punishment to bring to justice those people who have done this,” the prelate said. 

Archbishop Arshad said similar incidents have occurred in Pakistan before, often involving mob attacks. However, “no proper justice was done,” he said.

“If there was some example set in the past, this could have been avoided… Real justice is to be done in order to stop these kinds of incidents in the future,” the prelate added. 

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