Christian and other minorities in Pakistan are being warned to be on their guard in the wake of the assassination of a leading politician and avoid doing anything that might incite violence.
Auxiliary Bishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore described how across Pakistan people were “shocked and horrified” by the death of Salman Taseer, Governor of Pakistan’s Punjab Province. Mr Taseer was shot dead on Tuesday, 4 January.
Bishop Shaw’s comments come after reports emerged that Malik Mumtaz Hussain, the man named as Mr Taseer’s assassin, had acted in response to the late governor’s statements criticising Pakistan’s controversial Blasphemy Laws.
Mr Taseer made his remarks late last year when he called on Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to pardon Christian woman Asia Bibi who is on death row for Blasphemy Law offences.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need from Pakistan, Bishop Shaw said he was calling on the faithful to avoid public comment or action that could be misinterpreted by the mob and used to justify acts of violence and intimidation.
Bishop Shaw said: “All of our people need to be very careful. Saying anything can incite the mob.
“We must not live in fear. We must have faith in God. But if we go on the streets to express ourselves at this time, it will create a negative reaction.
“If people make statements and take actions that cause incitement, it may not be them that suffer most but their communities.”
Describing the response of Christians and others to Mr Taseer’s death, he said: “It is very sad and shocking news. Many people were horrified. People were crying.”
The bishop’s comments, made yesterday, coincided with increasing unrest across Pakistan sparked by statements and demonstrations by Pakistanis appalled by Governor Taseer’s criticism of the Blasphemy Laws.
Pakistan Penal Codes 295B and 295C – the Blasphemy Laws – impose sentences including execution for insulting the Prophet Mohammed and life-imprisonment for desecration of the Qur’an.
The legislation has come up against increasing opposition from human rights courts not only for its harsh sentences but also amid growing evidence that it has become the pretext for violence and intimidation targeting minorities including certain Muslim groups as well as Christians.
Matters came to a head when 45-year-old Ms Bibi became the first woman to be found guilty in connection with the Blasphemy Laws.
She is on death row pending the result of a High Court hearing.
In major cities, demonstrations have taken place in defence of the Blasphemy Laws and in Peshawar, an imam offered a reward of £3,740 for the killing of Ms Bibi.