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Christians accused of blasphemy shot dead in Pakistan

Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad has urged Christians to remain peaceful (Photo: ACN)

Two Christians have been killed, a church ransacked and shops burned as Muslim-Christian tensions erupted into five hours of violence in Faisalabad earlier this week.

Police restored order and dispersed the crowds by using shellfire. One day later, the situation remained tense, according to the Asian church news agency UCA News.

The murdered Christians were brothers who had been charged with publishing and distributing a blasphemous, anti-Islamic pamphlet. They were shot dead as they arrived at court to face the charges.

Five priests rushed to court after hearing the news and saw the bodies. Some were critical of the light security arrangements for the accused men.

Dominican Fr Pascal Paulus said: “We had been demanding more security for them, but we never expected this. Only three police guards was insufficient.”

The deaths sparked a series of street clashes between Christians and Muslims, who raided Holy Rosary Catholic church, pelting it with stones and causing extensive damage. Local mosques are said to have made provocative announcements over their loudspeakers, encouraging the violence, according to UCA News.

Afterward, church offices, including the local Caritas headquarters, remained closed, and some Christians fled their homes. Police said they arrested 60 Muslims.

A memorial service was held for the brothers at the city’s Cathedral of Ss Peter and Paul the next day, on July 20. The congregation had to be escorted in and out by police.

Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad, who celebrated the Mass, said: “We urge Christians to remain peaceful, but we also demand that the real culprits be brought to justice. Minorities have suffered a lot.”

At Masses on Sunday, Fr Paulus told parishioners not to discuss Islamic doctrine.

“Our survival depends on this,” he said. “Respect Islam and try to be tolerant and peaceful.”

On July 10, his church was stoned by a crowd of 100 Muslims carrying sticks and glass bottles, UCA News reported. Local Christians guarded the church for several nights after the incident.