Hundreds attended a commemoration service on Thursday, 15 March, for those killed and injured in the 2015 Easter suicide attacks on two churches in Youhanabad – the main Christian district in Lahore, Pakistan.
Fr. Francis Gulzar, the local parish priest who spoke at the event, said that instead of causing fear among Christians and preventing them from going to church, even more people are now attending church services, reported AsiaNews. They “come … without fear”, he said. “This is a clear message: we are true proponents of peace and harmony and we will not accept negative attitudes.”
Police were on guard outside the church where the commemoration was held. A police spokesperson told Catholic news agency UCAN that “some outsiders and political parties tried to create [a] disturbance by organising unannounced rallies on the anniversary”.
In riots that erupted following the bomb blasts, a mob killed two Muslim men whom they accused of complicity in the attacks. In the end 42 Christians went on trial for their murder, and while two of the accused have died in prison, the other 40 are still awaiting their appeal to be heard by the Lahore High Court.
In May last year it came to light that the deputy public prosecutor had been told them they would be freed if they converted to Islam.
Pakistan’s Senate Special Committee on Human Rights said earlier this month that “terrorism charges against the people arrested should be dropped and they should be tried in civil courts”, as Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported.
Senator Farhatullah Babar said: “Three years ago, two churches were targeted in Youhanabad, as a result of which [many] Christian citizens died. People in the area conducted protests to condemn the deaths of their fellow citizens – as is their right. These people were charged with terrorism and have been rotting in jail for three years.”
On 9 March another Christian community in Lahore remembered those who died in a mob-attack in 2013. The Christian man convicted of blaspheming against Islam, and so provoking the attack on Joseph Colony, was sentenced to death and is awaiting his appeal.