PAKISTAN: CHRISTIANS STRIVE FOR JUSTICE FOLLOWING ONSLAUGHT


Local security officials, Muslim clerics named in police complaint.

GOJRA, Pakistan, Aug. 5 (Compass Direct News) – A standoff here between Pakistani officials and Christians protesting the government’s reluctance to prosecute a murderous Islamic assault ended with officials finally consenting to file a complaint against key Muslim clerics and security officers.

On Sunday (Aug. 2) hundreds of Christians demonstrated in Gojra, where the previous day rampaging Muslims – acting on an unsubstantiated rumor of “blasphemy” of the Quran and whipped into a frenzy by local imams and banned terrorist groups – killed at least seven Christians, looted more than 100 houses and set fire to 50 of them. At least 19 people were injured in the melee.

In protest of government reluctance to name two security officers for negligence in connection with Christians burned to death, demonstrators on Sunday refused to quickly bury the dead as officials requested. Believing the government was stalling in registering a complaint, demonstrators put the coffins with the charred remains on railroad tracks for three hours before officials agreed to include District Police Officer (DPO) Inkasar Khan and District Coordinating Officer (DCO) Sikandar Baloch in the complaint filed against more than 20 named and 800 unnamed people.

Among those arrested include members of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a pro-Taliban, Sunni Muslim group, and its al Qaeda-linked offshoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi; officials said members of both groups were suspected of planning the attack in Gojra.

The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) reported that at least 14 Christians had been killed, and Christians in the affected areas told Compass the final death toll will likely be more than 20. The only deaths confirmed by hospital officials, however, are those of seven members of a family who died when their home was set on fire; names and ages in this report vary slightly from the hospital list as they are based on Compass contact with their survivors: Hameed Masih, 75; his son Akhlaq Hameed, 55; Asia Hameed, 22, wife of Mohsin Hameed; her mother Parveen, 50; Asifa Hameed, 30 (wife of survivor Almas Hameed), and her 8-year-old daughter Umia and 4-year-old son Musa.

With the caskets containing the remains of the dead Christians sitting in public for some time, the local administration tried to force survivors to conduct a hasty funeral, telling them to hold a service in Catholic parish hall and bury the dead as soon as possible.

Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and other prominent Christians met with the local administration, but negotiations failed as the two security officials were not named in the First Information report (FIR). A Catholic priest identified only as Father Mani then told protestors that an FIR had been registered and that he had seen it, and that therefore the demonstration should be called off.

But protestors did not believe him, insisting that they would not quit until they saw a copy of the FIR. Only after continued protests, with the dead bodies on the railway track for more than three hours, did officials register a case against key suspects in connection with murder, looting and violence: more than 20 identified people, including DPO Khan and DCO Baloch, who are accused of negligence in allowing the Islamic violence to erupt, and some 800 unidentified suspects.

Nevertheless, sources told Compass, the two officers have not been suspended, terminated or arrested. Rather, they have been made Special Duty Officers – an officer who is fully paid but has yet to be posted.

The FIR also names Muslim clerics of several Gojra mosques, including the imam of nearby Chamra Mandi Mosque, called Firdausia Mosque. Muslim groups held a press conference today in Gojra calling on the government to free clerics named in the FIR, according to CLAAS. They also threatened to hang Talib Masih, father of the boy who was falsely accused of tossing cut pages of the Quran into the air as part of a wedding ceremony in Korian.

The same rumor of desecration of the Quran that led to Saturday’s massive protest and attack in Gojra, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Faisalabad, also prompted the arson assault on Thursday (July 30) by Islamic extremists on the village of Korian, seven miles from Gojra.

In the Gojra violence, several people have also implicated Qadir Awan, president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in Gojra, who was also named in the FIR. Zahid Iqbal, administrative head of a section of Gojra called Union Council-21, said that Awan had no role in the rioting.

The bodies of the seven Christians had been kept in the mortuary of Civil Hospital in Gojra, where the Christian advocacy group called Community Development Initiative (CDI) helped wash the bodies and facilitated their transfer to the families.

Government Response

Amid strict security, a funeral service for the victims of the Gojra riots’ victims took place on Sunday (Aug. 2). Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah and Minorities Affairs Minister Bhatti participated in the funeral procession.

There Sanaullah announced that Punjab Chief Minister Sharif would visit the Christian community to express his condolences – “Beyond the FIR we are with you in punishing those who let this conspiracy succeed or participated in this conspiracy,” Sanaullah said – but Christians were disappointed the next day when he didn’t show.

Christians refused to speak with the representatives the chief minister had sent in his stead nor with other PML-N members. Provincial Minorities Minister Kamran Michael threatened to resign over the issue, and due to this pressure Chief Minister Sharif visited the area yesterday (Aug. 4), assuring the community that he would do his utmost to provide justice.

To assess the damage, the chief minister has constituted a 16-member group under the chairmanship of Michael.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has formed a committee to ascertain the amount of damage done during the rioting, and as soon as President Asif Ali Zardari learned of the incident he sent Minorities Minister Bhatti to Gojra.

President Zardari also announced that 500,000 rupees (US$6,040) will be made available for each person killed and 300,000 rupees (US$3,624) for those whose houses were burned. Prime Minister Gilani is also expected to announce a special package for the affected families.

A report submitted by Bhatti to the president states that the Punjab government and local administration failed to stem the violence. It adds that additional troops were not sent to help local authorities in Gojra, despite the advice of the minorities minister.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has also sought a report from the interior secretary and the Punjab inspector general.

Farahnaz Ispahani, spokesperson for President Zardari, told Compass that after Muslims burned more than 50 homes in Korian village on July 30 and 31 – following the accusation of “blasphemy” of the Quran that proved to be false – the president asked the Punjabi government to report on it. After the subsequent Aug. 1 rioting in Gojra, she said, he immediately dispatched Bhatti to the site with orders to report back.

Ispahani said that after the president talked to Prime Minister Gilani, the prime minister called Chief Minister of the Punjab Sharif over the incident. When it became clear that police were unable to handle the matter, she said, the president ordered Rangers – paramilitary troops mainly deployed along the border for security – into Gojra to take charge and save Christians from further damage.

CDI Field Officer Napoleon Qayyum told Compass that CDI had strongly objected to the route of the Aug. 1 Islamic demonstration – which had been called to protest the release of the man whose son was falsely accused of desecrating pages of the Quran – saying he had told DPO Khan that it should not pass by any churches or Christian areas. As Islamic clerics made threatening announcements from mosques the day before the rampage, Qayyum said, DCO Baloch also had ample warning that violence was imminent.

“The way things were moving in Gojra, no rocket science was needed to predict this fallout,” he said, adding that announcements from loudspeakers mounted on vehicles broadcast how Christians had supposedly desecrated the Quran.

Punjab Minister for Law Sanaullah said an initial investigation of allegations of the Quran being blasphemed indicated “there has not been any incident of desecration.”

The CDI also objected to a two-member committee set up by provincial Chief Minister Sharif regarding violence in Korian village.

“Our objection was that no Christian was on the committee,” Qayyum said, “because how could administration and police be thought to be unbiased? It was the first step where the provincial government showed partiality.”

After Korian village Christians were attacked, the government showed no interest in arresting or reining in rampaging mobs, according to Qayyum, who said that the day after that assault he saw crowds there still armed with clubs wearing green, dark brown or black turbans, an indication that “religious fanatics were still roaming free.”

Likewise, he added, the provincial government allowed the civil administration and police to use delaying tactics in June 30 violence in Bahmaniwala village, where 110 houses were plundered and ransacked in Kasur.

Christians make up less than 5 percent of Pakistan’s 175 million population, which is mainly Muslim.

Report from Compass Direct News 

PAKISTAN: ISLAMABAD CHURCH ON THE THRESHOLD OF WAR


By Elizabeth Kendal

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin

Special to ASSIST News Service

The Margala Hills are all that lie between al-Qaeda-Taliban jihadists and their goal: nuclear-armed Islamabad. While most popular media reports give the impression that this crisis has only recently emerged, this is far from the case. The reality must be absorbed and lessons must be learned.

In 2003, as part of their ‘War on Terror’ alliance, America and Pakistan agreed that the Pakistani Army be given the job of eliminating al-Qaeda and Taliban elements in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) of North West Frontier Province (NWFP). However, a high death toll — including the loss of possibly 3000 soldiers — weakened both Army moral and public resolve, creating domestic political problems for then-president General Musharraf.

In pursuit of political gain, Musharraf brokered ‘land-for-peace’ deals with the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance. In February 2005 South Waziristan was ceded, followed by North Waziristan in September 2006. With this ‘peace’, the military withdrew and jihadists were released from prison with compensation on a mere pledge not to engage in terrorism. If there were a turning point in the ‘War on Terror’, this unconditional surrender of Waziristan was surely it, for the power of the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance has grown in both Afghanistan and Pakistan ever since.

The jihadists were never going to be pacified so long as their goal — the total Islamisation and Talibanisation of fortress Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan — remained unchanged and unrealised. The ‘Islamic Republic of Waziristan’ simply became a terrorist sanctuary and launching pad for further advances. Within months several more tribal areas had fallen under Taliban control. (‘Land-for-peace’ deals with agenda-driven fundamentalist Islamists and jihadists secure incremental Islamist advance, not peace.)

In July 2007 the government’s assault on the Islamists of the Lal Masjid (the Red Mosque in the centre of Islamabad) left some 100 Islamists dead. (The Islamists say thousands died, including children.) Consequently in September 2007 Al-Qaeda declared jihad against the government of Pakistan and the war was on in earnest. This war pits a determined al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance (with numerous high-level sympathisers) against an unstable and equivocating Pakistani government and a conflicted and divided Pakistani Army plagued by Pashtun and Sunni defections.

In the 18 months since, the jihadists have held or captured all the tribal areas. In February 2009 President Asif Ali Zardari brokered a ‘sharia-for-peace’ deal with the Taliban in Malakand Division which comprises one third of NWFP and includes the glorious, albeit Taliban-held, Swat Valley. All of NWFP is now either ceded to the Taliban or under some degree of Taliban control or influence.

Emboldened by its Malakand victory and its advances in strategic Peshawar, the Taliban launched its Spring Offensive with a further escalation. In early April a more united Taliban (see RLP 518, 23 Feb 2009) surged with little resistance south east from Swat (towards Islamabad) into Buner District in a ‘blitzkreig’. From there they quickly infiltrated Haripur District which borders the outskirts of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. According to most Western and Indian analysis and intelligence, Pakistan’s fall is inevitable and imminent, although according to Pakistan, this assessment is ‘ridiculous’.

The Church in Pakistan’s NWFP is already suffering severe repression and persecution under Taliban tyranny. Christians there are living in fear and paying jizya, the’tax’ or protection money demanded of subjugated Jews and Christians in the Quran (Sura 9:29). Their lives are always in the balance. The Church in Islamabad stands on the brink of the same fate. If the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance manages to capture Islamabad in the months ahead, the world will instantly become a different place, and the Church in Islamabad and across Pakistan will see suffering and persecution unlike anything it has ever known before.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

ITALY: EARTHQUAKE AFTERMATH TRAGEDY


News from the earthquake zone in Italy is not good, with the death toll constantly rising and currently sits at about 180. However, there are reports that dozens of people remain buried in the rubble, with fears that the death toll may reach several hundred more.

For more reports on the earthquake in Italy see the following reports:

AUSTRALIA: VICTORIAN BUSHFIRES UPDATE – 30 March 2009


There has been some incredible news out of Victoria today concerning the death toll from the bushfire disaster. The death toll has stood at 210 for some time and there had been fears that it would climb to above 300. However, the death toll has now fallen to 173, with the probability now being that the toll may fall further.

Why the dramatic fall in the official death toll and the estimated final figure? The reason given has been that the remains discovered were so terribly burnt and spread about, that the number of victims ‘found’ was impossible to accurately give. Some remains have now also been identified as not human. Obviously the remains were terribly burnt and there seems to have been very little left in many circumstances.

The fall in the death toll is certainly wonderful news, though the death toll is sadly still very high.

The roads around the devastated town of Marysville have today been reopened to the general public. The town’s residents have been allowed into the town for some time now.

AUSTRALIAN BUSHFIRES UPDATE: REBUILDING BEGINS IN MARYSVILLE


A site just outside of Marysville has been cleared to make way for a temporary village of various demountable buildings and temporary shelters while the town is rebuilt. Some 40 families are expected to be housed in the complex within the week.

Rebuilding in Marysville and throughout bushfire affected Victoria is being overseen by former Victorian Police Commissioner and the now Chairwoman of the Reconstruction and Recovery Authority.

The actual township of Marysville remains closed while the town continues to be searched for more bushfire victims.

Sound Relief concerts held in both Sydney and Melbourne raised about $5 million dollars for Victoria’s bushfire victims and Queensland’s flood victims. The concerts included performances by Cold Play, John Farnham and Kylie Minogue, as well as a reformed Midnight Oil fronted by Peter Garrett. Some 120 000 people attended the two concerts.

Grants from the bushfire appeal have begun to flow to those who have lost homes in the bushfire, with most home owners having received $50 000 grants.

The official death toll remains at 210, but this is still expected to rise as the search for remains continues, with many people still regarded as missing.

The final fire (Wilsons Promontory) that was regarded as being out of control is now contained.

ARREST WARRANT ISSUED FOR SUDAN’S PRESIDENT OVER DARFUR


The Hague issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudan’s President, Omar al-Beshir, over the trouble in Darfur. He becomes the first sitting head of state to be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, reports MNN.

The International Criminal Court wants answers from Mr. Bashir for a range of crimes, including the attempt to destroy ethnic groups deemed to be supporting rebel factions.

In addition, there are worries that the warrant could worsen Sudan’s deadly conflicts and raises issues of double standards.

Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs says Khartoum’s response is not encouraging. “It’s not promising that their initial step was to kick out aid workers who are helping to meet the needs of the Sudanese people. That really shows that their interest is not in having the Sudanese people better taken care of; their interest really is in making a point to the international community: ‘We didn’t like this. We’re going to strike back at you.'”

The death toll from the trouble in Darfur is at nearly 300,000 since rebels began fighting with the government in 2003. The United Nations estimates the internal displacement at nearly 2.5 million Darfuris.

Although Darfur’s issues were separate from those that engulfed the rest of the country in civil war, the warrant issue seems to have and an unexpected unifying effect.

A referendum is slated for 2011 to determine whether or not the South, which is mainly Christian, should remain a part of Sudan.

However, now there is animosity aimed at all things deemed “Western,” which includes Christianity. Nettleton says that animosity raises the stakes for their ministry partners. “Times of uncertainty and of unsettledness can be great times of revival as people think about eternity. They think about things beyond their government, and so that can be a time of spiritual awakening. We need to pray that that will happen also.” Keep praying for the ministry teams as they work to share the hope of Christ during a tense time in Sudan.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

AUSTRALIA: BUSHFIRES UPDATE – 6th March 2009


Good news at last in the bushfire crisis in Victoria – the official word is that the crisis is over and the rebuilding can commence. This news comes despite the fact that one bushfire remains out of control and others are still burning – though within containment lines and are said to be under control. If conditions remain stable the fires may be out within a matter of weeks – helped by the onset of cooler autumn weather.

The official death toll remains at 210, though it is still expected to grow in the weeks and months to come, but it is not expected to exceed 300 anymore.

Residents of Marysville are being interviewed in an attempt by police to identify the arsonist and collect evidence.

AUSTRALIA: BUSHFIRES UPDATE – 2nd March 2009 (Urgent Warning)


With bushfires still burning in Victoria, residents are being warned that conditions are set to deteriorate dramatically overnight as gale force winds strike the state. Winds are expected to reach 150 km (95 miles) an hour from tonight.

With conditions expected to be as bad as ‘Black Saturday’ about a month ago, residents in areas still under threat from the bushfires are being told to flee before the winds arrive. The Black Saturday fires claimed at least 210 people (confirmed dead – 37 are still missing) and there are real fears that the expected conditions of the next day or so may add to the already shocking death toll.

Fire-fighters fear that the winds will send the still burning four major bushfires (as well as the lesser sized bushfires) across containment lines and there will be little that they will be able to do about it. Fires may spot across containment lines and change direction rapidly without warning. These conditions are extreme and grave.

The fires are the same ones that have so far taken 210 lives (confirmed), over 2000 houses and 450 000 hectares (1.1 million acres) of farmland and bushland.

In preparation for the worsening conditions the government has closed schools across the state. A total fire ban is also in force across the state. Text messages have been sent to mobile phone owners urging them to be prepared for the frightening conditions.

BELOW: Footage of the firestorm in Clonbinane on the 7th February 2009

AUSTRALIA: BUSHFIRE UPDATE – Monday 23rd February 2009


The bushfire emergency in Victoria is far from over tonight as the death toll for the fires has now reached 210 confirmed dead. Three fire-fighters have been injured today as a number of new fires have broken out and older fires continue to burn.

Currently under threat are communities to the east of Melbourne, where a home (in Belgrave Heights) is believed to have been destroyed today, with the possibility of others also having been destroyed. Two fire tankers have also been lost to the fire.

Communities in the Dandenong Ranges have come under threat due to a sudden wind change which is now pushing a bushfire in their direction. The blaze is thought to be threatening Upwey, Tecoma, Belgrave Heights, Belgrave South and Belgrave.

Students at Belgrave Heights Christian School were evacuated this afternoon as the fire came within 4 km of the school. Residents in the communities of Warburton and Yarram have also fled their homes as the fire approaches.

Daylesford may also come under threat, with a bushfire burning to the south of the town. The fire may cause a threat to the communities of Bullarto, Bullarto South, Leonards Hill, Musk, Woodburn and Newbury.

The huge Kilmore East fire (80 000 hectares) is moving ever closer to Warburton, while the Murrindindi North fire (155 000 hectares) is burning to the west of Enoch Point.

Another fire (19 000 hectares) is still burning out of control in the Wilsons Promontory National Park and small communities in the area are preparing for worsening fire conditions.

Current Updates and Advice on the fires can be found at the CFA web site:

http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/incidents/incident_updates.htm

The full list of fires (and there are dozens) can be found at:

http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/incidents/incident_summary.htm

BELOW: Footage from the National Day of Mourning Service

AUSTRALIA: BUSHFIRES AND FLOODS


Australia is a land of extremes. We have bushfires still burning out of control in Victoria and floods across the country in Queensland, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, South Australia and now in Western Australia as well. Somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of Australia is flood affected, while something like 50 percent of the country is still stricken by drought. Some areas have now been in drought for 11 or 12 years.

Flood waters are now beginning to recede across most of the country; however there is still plenty of rain about – especially in Queensland where an active monsoonal trough is still dumping rain on Queensland.

In Queensland authorities have captured the crocodile that took a 5 year old boy in flood waters. The boy’s remains were found inside of the crocodile. The crocodile is not going to be released back into the wild and will probably be sent to a crocodile farm.

The death toll in Victoria’s bushfire disaster now stands at 209, including a fire-fighter who was killed by a falling tree damaged by the fires. The fire-fighter was from interstate and had gone to Victoria to assist in the crisis. He was due to go home the next day.

The police have stated that the death toll is no longer expected to climb much further than 209.

The official damage bill for in the bushfire areas of Victoria is fast approaching $1 billion Australian dollars and is expected to go beyond that.

Police have now arrested a woman who claimed her father was killed in the bushfires after it was discovered she was not related to the man she claimed was her father. The woman was trying to obtain $10 000 in bushfire relief money.

BELOW: Dramatic video footage as a bushfire approaches a house at Anglesea in the early hours of the morning of the 14th February 2009.