Pakistani Christians hold Sunday services at churches burnt by mob

By Mubasher Bukhari

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistani Christians held services on Sunday at churches that were vandalised and torched by a vigilante mob last week after two Christian brothers were accused of desecrating the Koran.

The services at a handful of churches in the city of Jaranwala in eastern Pakistan were led by the bishop of the diocese, Christian community leader Akmal Bhatti said. He attended one of the services, which drew hundreds of Christians whose homes were partly or completely destroyed when the mob burnt and looted them on Wednesday.

The pastors later distributed food rations to those affected, Bhatti said.

The provincial government said in a statement on Sunday that compensation of two million rupee ($6,751.05) has been approved for each of the affected families.

Paramilitary troops have been guarding the sites of the arson attacks in Jaranwala in Punjab province. The sites attacked included the historic Salvation Army Church and Saint Paul Catholic Church, three smaller churches and scores of houses.

A Christian graveyard was also desecrated, residents and community leaders said, adding that the mob armed with iron rods, sticks, bricks, knife and daggers went on the rampage without any intervention by police and administration authorities who were present there for over 10 hours.

Police have denied this, saying it prevented a worse situation.

Clerics from an outlawed Islamist political party – Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) – led the campaign which resulted in the violence, according to residents and government sources.

The TLP denied this, saying it had joined the police in calming down the situation.

Police have arrested the two Christian men accused of the blasphemy, and are investigating them, and said they have rounded up nearly 160 people involved in the mob attack.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan but no one has ever been executed. Numerous people accused of blasphemy have been lynched by outraged mobs in the past. A former provincial governor and a minister for minorities were shot dead for trying to reform the blasphemy law.

($1 = 296.2500 Pakistani rupees)

(Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Susan Fenton)