Gojra Martyrs remembered

August 3, 2010

by Ashfaq Fateh, reporting from Pakistan

Editorial Note: In the Gojra incident seven people, including a seven year old, were burned alive and eighteen others injured in after fresh violence erupted in the town over the alleged desecration of the Holy Qu’ran. More than 50 houses were set on fire and a place of worship belonging to a minority community was damaged by an angry mob. Read the story>>>

Toba Tek Singh, Pakistan, August 1, 2010 (Justice Watch) – Thousands of Christians from Gojra and across the country marked first anniversary of Gojra violence. Most Rev. Bishop Joseph Coutts the Bishop of Catholic Diocese of Faisalabad offered Eucharistic Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Gojra, Toba Tek Singh. Heavy contingent of police was deployed. The police cordon off all the routes to Church and Colony.

The Bishop and people of various sections of life lit the candles in front of the pictures of Gojra martyrs and Emmanuel brothers who were killed outside the court room in Faisalabad on July 19, 2010 on Blasphemy charges.

Fr. Khalid Rasheed Asi, Vicar General, Diocese Faisalabad gave a sermon. He said, ?Today, we are not here to protest or agitate against anybody but to recall and pay tribute to the martyrs of violence against Christians in Gojra on August 01, 2009. The sacrifice of the nine Christians and Emanuels has strengthened the faith of the followers. He appealed Christians to remain peaceful and serve Pakistan.?

After the prayer service, speeches were made by the district administration, Muslim clerics and Christian leaders.

Abid Mukhtar, former Christian Councilor from Gojra Colony said, ?Its unfortunate that one year has past but government has not done any advancement to start phase two, rebuilding work of the victims in Christian Colony, Gojra. He demanded the government to pay the promised compensation to victims.?

Main Khalid, secretary traders association Gojra remarked, ?The tragedy shaken the Gojra. Traders decided to respond in a way that could Muslim love. Traders provided food to the victims for months. Church and district administration supported the traders and other citizens to restore peace.?

Advocate Sheikh Javed, President Tehsil Bar Council said, ?All Pakistanis are equal. There is no distinction on the basis of religion. Pakistan is for each one of us. The violence against Christians on August 1, 2009 was horrible and the culprits must not be spared. However, for the last past couple of years terrorists have been targeting every peace loving people.?

Joel Amir Sahotra, Member Punjab Assembly, condemned Divisional Commissioner of Faisalabad and District Coordination Officer, Toba Tek Singh, for not reporting the remaining work and compensation issue of the victims to Chief Minster. He alleged his party Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz for not given due share in jobs for Christians and not paying serious attention to resolve the issues of religious minorities in the Province of Punjab. He warned his party that if their reservations will not be addressed; “there will be no votes in coming elections.?

Aasia Nasir, a Christian woman and member of the National Assembly on Women, from JUI, Fazal-ur-Rehman, addressed the Christians in a program held in Gojra Christian Colony. She said, ?It?s unfortunate that most of the Blasphemy cases are reported and violence against Christians is made in central Punjab. There is not a single case of Blasphemy law in Balochistan Province.” She continued, ?Following Jesus Christ, Gojra Christians should forgive the culprits for the sake of peace and harmony in the city. I know it?s not a popular suggestion. However, our Christian values teach us forgiveness.?

Pir Israr Bahar Shah, a Muslim cleric, expressed solidarity with Christians and said, ?The Gojra violence by the terrorists created a bad name for Islam and Pakistan in the world around. The incident has not given any service to Islam. People of Pakistan are targeted by the non state actors indiscriminately. The terrorists are attacking Shrines, Mosques, Churches, Temples, hospitals, security personnel. He stressed the need for interfaith harmony and peace.?

Mullana Abdul Haye, another Muslim cleric, recited his poem on Christian/Muslim peace and friendship.

Bishop Joseph Coutts thanked all those who helped and expressed solidarity to support victims in the shape of rebuilding of houses, compensation and providing security aftermath the violence. He praised law enforcement agencies for security arrangements.

Fr. Yaqub Yousaf, a? parish priest in Gojra and Christian Community, organized the program. Thousands of guests were provided lunch.

Rev. Fr. Bonnie Mendes, currently working as Regional Coordinator, Caritas Asia, ?Thailand is among the pioneers in Pakistan to lead movements for equal citizenship rights for minorities and human rights issues in Pakistan. He shared the following:

?Just as the Christian community all over the country, especially in the diocese of Faisalabad, was feeling the pain? of the wound of the tragedy of Gojra of August 1, 2009, on the occasion of the first anniversary [after an accusation of blasphemy miles away from Gojra – no relatives of the Gojra Christian community], two Christians, Sajid Emmanuuel and Rashid Emmanuel, were gunned down in broad day light, right in the premises of the court in the city of Faisalabad, where they were declared innocent by the judge of the accusation of blasphemy. To make matters worse the murderers were able to escape from the premises of the court. In Gojra last year, the police were warned to give the Christian community protection but they allowed a mob to torch the houses of the Christian community in the city of Gojra and some were burned to death, many others were injured All this not far from a police station in the city of Gojra.

” No doubt the government tried to help the community by re-building the houses of the Christian community, but no amount of help can erase the horrid memories and the inability of the police to track the real culprits and bring them to justice.”

All the government can now do is to bend backwards to do justice and listen to the innumerable complaints of the Christian community. Those complaints have to be addressed immediately, be it the curriculum of the schools or repeal of discriminatory laws. Things have to change radically if the community is live in peace and with full protection.

Christians strongly condemned Federal and Provincial Ministers of minorities? affairs for their lack of interest in the first anniversary.

View Pictures of the gathering for the First Anniversary of Gojra Violence.