Christians in Pakistan demand a separate province

Christians in Pakistan demand a separate provinceChristians demanded a separate province in Pakistan after more than 180 Christian owned homes shops and two Churches were torched on Saturday by an enraged Muslim mob, following reports that a Christian man had blasphemed Islam in Lahore, eastern Pakistan. Thousands of Christians in in Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad protested the violence on Sunday, accusing the police of failing to protect the Christians of Joseph Colony while also condemning the country's blasphemy laws, demanding justice and criticizing the police for failing to protect them.

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A mob of some 3,000 Muslims set fire to approximately 178 Christian homes and two churches in the Joseph Colony of Lahore on March 9 following accusations that Sawan Masih, a Christian sanitation worker, had made derogatory remarks about the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Masih had allegedly made the blasphemous comments on Wednesday during a dispute on religious issues with Shahid Imran, a Muslim, while the men were drunk, said local resident Altaf Masih.

Though the Pakistani government claims it instituted blasphemy laws to seek religious harmony through uniformity, in practice blasphemy laws provide cover for personal vendettas against religious minorities. Approximately 1,400 blasphemy cases have been registered since the law was first enacted in 1986, according to Human Rights Watch. There are at least 16 people currently on death row, including several Christians, in Pakistan for blasphemy and 20 serving life sentences.

A Christian-ruled province could have avoided incidents such as last week's attacks against Lahore's Joseph Colony, a Christian neighborhood, said activists and politicians. "We request all Christian political, religious and civil society leaders to raise their voice... for a separate province for Christians, where we can live without fear of the majority's [Islamic] faith and concepts" added the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) group and the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC) party. Under the plan, Punjab province would be divided in four parts, including one for minority Christians and the others for Sunni Muslims and the Hazara and Seraiki communities.

In the meantime, International Christian Concern (ICC) calls on the Pakistani Government to arrest those responsible for the attack, rebuild the Christians' homes and shops, and replace all their possessions, including their life's savings, which many families lost in the raid. No one should be attacked by mobs and disdained by their Government simply because they are a member of a minority religious community.

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