A Pakistani Muslim youth who climbed a church roof and sat on the cross chanting “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is great) was arrested and charged with blasphemy by police in Punjab province.
Videos circulating on social media showed Muhammad Bilal mounting the cement cross standing 12 meters from the ground on the rooftop of One in Christ Church in the Hafiz Chowk area of Lahore.
“He climbed the church roof at 10am from the adjacent lattice factory and first tried to break the cross. Later he sat on the cross and kept chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ for half an hour,” said M.M. Akash, a local evangelist who called the police helpline.
Bilal was detained by police in Kasur district, 49 kilometers from Lahore, after a first information report (FIR) under section 295-A of the blasphemy law was registered by Akash on March 16.
“As people gathered in the street, Bilal came down. He was arrested but later released by the police after an initial investigation. The same evening we gathered at the police station to register the FIR and gave witnesses [statements] about the blasphemy in front of the superintendent of police. Bilal was rearrested late at night,” Akash said.
Church authorities have urged the community to remain peaceful. About 400 Christian families are members of the church built in 1985.
“It was a planned attack. The assailant was trained like a suicide bomber and wanted to become a shaheed (martyr). Religious persecution has become a routine in our country. We are trying to avoid conflict and demand protection from the government,” Akash told a foreign news agency.
Samson Salamat, chairman of Rwadari Tehreek (movement for religious tolerance), urged Prime Minister Imran Khan to address the growing minority phobia in society.
“The citizens belonging to minority communities and their religions are considered inferior. One could imagine the violent reaction and level of destruction if a non-Muslim was behind such an act,” he said.
Salamat said the lynching and desecration of churches, temples and minority properties were a normal phenomenon as were false blasphemy allegations against minorities. “Sadly, the youth has been nurtured on hatred for Christians. The nursery of hate mongering must be shut down,” he demanded.
There has been a surge in attacks on religious minorities and their institutions since the Taliban takeover in neighboring Afghanistan last August. Pakistan has been repeatedly slammed by the international community for not safeguarding the interests of its minorities.
Earlier this month, about 100 died in a suicide attack at a Shia mosque, while in January a lay pastor was assassinated in the city of Peshawar.
Armed men raided St. Camillus Church in village 49/2L of Okara district in January and threw pictures of the Holy Family, the Eucharist, Bibles and the Ark of the Covenant on the floor.