Pakistan: rampage against Christians

JP: NYTimes’ reporting on persecution in Pakistan.

Hate Engulfs Christians in Pakistan

Excerpt:

More than 100 Christian houses were burned and looted on Saturday in a rampage that lasted about eight hours by a crowd the authorities estimate was as large as 20,000 strong. In addition to the seven members of the Hameed family who were killed, about 20 people were wounded.

The authorities, who said the Koran accusation was spurious, filed criminal charges in the case late Sunday and apprehended at least 12 people. Officials said a banned Sunni militant group, Sipah-e-Sohaba, was among those responsible for the attacks, the third convulsion of anti-Christian mob violence in the region in the past four weeks.

Christians, who make up less than 5 percent of the entire population, are often treated as second-class citizens in Pakistan, where Islam is the official religion. Non-Muslims are constitutionally barred from becoming president or prime minister.

While some Christians rise to become government officials or run businesses, the poorest work the country’s worst jobs, as toilet cleaners and street sweepers.

It was the poorest class who lived in Christian Colony, a small enclave of bare brick houses where the mob struck Saturday. Its residents work as day laborers and peddlers in the market, often earning far less than the minimum wage, $75 a month.

The Hameeds were having breakfast when the mob descended, wielding guns, hurling stones and shouting insults (“Dogs!” “American agents!”) through their window. The Hameeds did not appear to have been singled out but had the misfortune of living where the mob entered the neighborhood and happened to be home at the time.

When the grandfather, Hameed Pannun Khan, 75, a house painter, opened the door to see what was happening, he was shot in the temple and crumpled to the ground. The crowd then pushed inside, and the rest of the family — at least 10 people — fled to the back bedroom and locked themselves inside. They listened from behind the door as the mob looted the house, dragging away a refrigerator and a cupboard.

Then came the smoke, thick white plumes under the door.

“Everyone was shouting to escape,” said Umer Hameed, 18. “There was no oxygen.”

They waited as long as they could, until they thought it was safe, and then made a run for it, but not everybody made it. Three women, the two children and a man were trapped when the roof collapsed in flames.

As he ran, Ikhlaq Hameed glanced back and saw his aunt. “She tried to come out, but the fire caught her,” he said. “The fire was on her face.”

The rampage began Thursday in a nearby village when Christians at a wedding party were accused of burning a Koran. Few here believed that, and state and federal officials who looked into the case said it was false. Still, local mullahs seized on the news, filing a blasphemy case against the Christian family.

“We were afraid because the clerics had been railing against us in the mosques,” said Riaz Masih, a Christian and retired math teacher whose house was gutted. “They said, ‘Let’s teach them a lesson.’

Image capture is from the article.

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