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Monday, 29 October, 2001, 14:17 GMT
Analysis: Pakistan's Christian minority
St Patrick's church, Karachi
Security is tightened at St Patrick's church, Karachi
Tufail Ahmad of the BBC's Urdu service looks at the position of Christians in Pakistan after 16 were killed in a church attack on Sunday.

These killings came at a time when the United States is fighting a war against Afghanistan opposed by many Pakistanis.


In 1998, a Roman Catholic bishop killed himself in protest at a death sentence imposed on a Christian for blaspheming against Islam

There are suspicions that the killings may have been carried out by pro-Taleban supporters in Pakistan, though no group has yet claimed responsibility.

Pakistan's Christian leaders however believe that the killings are linked to the US military action in Afghanistan.

It should be recalled that Christian leaders had demanded security cover for themselves and their churches just before the US launched its military action in Afghanistan.

Conflicts between religious minorities and Muslims in Pakistan are not entirely unknown.

However, these are the worst killings against Christians in the nation's history.

Conversion claims

In the past, Christian churches have been burned down.
Victims of Sunday's attack
Worshippers pay their respects to the dead

And after the 1992 demolition of Babri mosque at Ayodhya in India, there were clashes between the Hindu minority and Muslims in Pakistan too.

However, Pakistan is known mainly for sectarian killings between Sunni and Shia Muslims, or between different sects of the Sunnis.

There have been tensions between Muslims and Christians over the allegations that Christians have tried to convert Muslims.

Blasphemy law

Sentiments on the ground against Christians and other minorities in Pakistan became serious only after 1977 when General Zia ul-Haq introduced a blasphemy law to please the religious parties supporting his martial law.

The law has been misused by Muslim landlords in Pakistan's countryside to grab land from Christians by framing them in blasphemy cases, especially in the Punjab province.

The last time Pakistan's Christians attracted newspaper headlines was in 1998 when a Christian family of nine was killed in the northern city of Nowshera.

The killings were linked to the apparent belief of some local people that the head of the family was practising spiritual healing.

A relative of a victim of Sunday's attack
Grieving for those killed in Sunday's attack

The charge was rejected by leading Pakistani Bishop Samuel Ezrayah, who led a protest rally of hundreds of Christians in Lahore.

The Bishop linked the killings to religious discrimination and fundamentalist attitudes towards Christianity.

Christians have also campaigned against electoral laws which have limited who they, and other religious minorities, can vote for.

Suicide

In 1998, a Roman Catholic bishop killed himself in protest at a death sentence imposed on a Christian for blaspheming against Islam.

Bishop John Joseph, who was the chairman of a human rights commission established by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan, shot himself in the head in the corridors of a court house where Ayub Masih, a Catholic, had been convicted and sentenced to death.

However, appeal courts in Pakistan have generally freed Christians convicted under the blasphemy law.

In one case though, a Christian youth, Manzoor Masih, was arrested under the blasphemy law but was shot dead while on bail.

See also:

14 Feb 01 | South Asia
Pakistani Christians boycott elections
17 May 00 | South Asia
Pakistan's blasphemy law U-turn
12 Apr 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's religious rift
13 Mar 01 | South Asia
Gunmen attack Pakistan mosque
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