Originally published in Christian Concern
At least 74 people have been killed and 341 others have been injured in an Easter Sunday bombing in Lahore, Pakistan.
The suicide attacks were carried out by a splinter-group of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamat-Ul-Ahrar, who said they had deliberately targeted Christians.
More bad news for Christians as Pakistan promises no change to blasphemy laws in deal with hardline Islamists
Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy laws will not be changed after a deal between government and hardline Islamists on Wednesday afternoon.
The settlement promised that prisoners convicted of blasphemy, which carries the death penalty in Pakistan, will be shown no leniency. The negotiation marked the end of a major stand-off between the government and thousands of protesters who had gathered in central Islamabad.
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Christians make up only 2% of Pakistan’s population, and experience regular persecution from hard-line Muslims.
Many Christians had been in Gulshan Iqbal Park to celebrate Easter, when the blasts went off.
Sohail, a Christian man, said that he had been at the park with his wife and four of his children.
“I went to get groceries, but my children insisted that it was the last day of their school holidays so I should take them to Iqbal Park, which I did,” he said.
The blast occurred as Sohail went to get tickets for the park’s rides.
“My 6-year-old is in critical condition and is in surgery,” he said.
24 children are reported amongst those killed in the attack.
Pakistan has a history of violence against Christians. In March 2015, suicide bombers targeted a Christian community in Lahore, killing 14 and injuring dozens more. At the time, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks and warned of more to come.
Pakistan-born Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali has criticised the Pakistani government for its repeated inaction regarding these attacks. He said that as a result, Christian communities in Pakistan have become “sitting ducks for terrorists to do whatever they like”.
Speaking to BBC Newsday, he described this attack as “plumbing the depths of evil.”
“There has been a pattern of for example, mob violence against Christian communities, churches and sometimes even individuals, but this really is plumbing the depths of evil, because this time the target has been children and mothers playing at the swings. I don’t know of a softer target than that. So yes, things seem very bad here, from that point of view.”
He continued: “[T]here are layers of persecution, so there is legal discrimination against Christians, I mean that is embedded in the law now, and that was brought about 25/30 years ago. Then there is social discrimination in employment, in housing opportunities and schooling. Then as you say, there has been this mob violence.
“That has been very serious, lots of people have been killed, institutions destroyed. And now more recently there has been this terrorist attack, again part of a series of attacks — you may remember some churches were attacked last year.
“How this has come about, because I remember a time, I was a bishop here before I was a bishop in England, and Christians and Muslims and others lived together amicably, neighbours went to the same schools, and ate in the same restaurants.
“This has been brought about by this process of radicalisation based on an ideology that is regarded as based on religion. And it is not for me to say how authentic that is, but that is for other people to say how distorted it is or how authentic, but that is what is causing these problems.”
Need for ‘one law for all’
Responding to a question on what could be changed to improve the situation in Pakistan, he said: “I think there are a number of things. I think we need to address the teaching of hatred that children are absorbing from schooldays in their textbooks, in religious schools, even by religious teachers sometimes in public gatherings. That has to be addressed urgently.
“The other is that we need changes in the law so that equality under the law is guaranteed for all.
“One law for all must be a principle that is recognised. Fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of expression, need to be safeguarded. And then of course there is the rampant misuse of the blasphemy laws.
“I have suggested again and again to successive governments how to deal with this, and I’ve had verbal agreement, ‘yes you know, it sounds a good idea we will do it,’ but in fact very little has been done.
“All those things which certainly improve the situation are of course the army and the security services are engaged, from their angle in curbing terrorist activity, and that is good, but I think these underlying causes also need to be addressed.”
‘Persecution of Christians is now systemic’
After the suicide attacks last March, Bishop Michael called for the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations Human Rights Council to address formally the plight of Christians in the Islamic world.
“Persecution of Christians is now systemic. There are large numbers involved,” he said.
“What is happening to them is horrific. If this had happened to any other group, it would have caused international intervention many times over.”