Bishop Blames Pakistan Government for Burning of Christian Neighborhood

Says Attack Could Have Been Stopped

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Bishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore blamed the provincial government of Punjab for failing to act when a dispute between two men spiraled Saturday into an attack in which a 3,000-strong mob attacked the city's Joseph Colony, a Christian quarter where 180 homes and two churches were burnt. Nobody was killed.

Speaking Monday from the scene of the devastation, Bishop Shaw, apostolic administrator of Lahore Archdiocese, said the attack was "well organised" and could have been averted by adequate police protection.

In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Shaw said: "The Government are to blame; they are responsible. They knew two days before about the threat of this attack happening."

Stating that the mob "used chemicals which only the Army and other agencies have," Bishop Shaw said: "People are very, very angry and sad. They are sad because they have lived together with the rest of the community for a long, long time. Now they are asking: 'Why is this happening to us?'"

He said: "The situation is very, very pathetic. It is difficult to even look at the people when you see them in a state such as this."

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari responded to the attack by announcing Rs0.5 million (£3,386) compensation for the victims, including rebuilding their homes.

Bishop Shaw said: "Even this amount of money will not heal the wounds and psychological fears of the people."

Bishop Shaw went on to urge the international community to renew calls to amend Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws.

He was speaking after it emerged that the violence in Joseph Colony had been sparked by a dispute in which a Muslim man, Shafiq Ahmed, accused sanitary worker Sawan Masih, a Christian man in his 20s, of making defamatory comments against the Prophet Mohammed, a crime punishable by death according to 295C of Pakistan's Penal Code.

Despite initial investigations disproving the allegations, a growing mob of extremists began pelting the homes of more than 150 Christian families and dispersing chemicals.

As the tension mounted, police arrested Masih and charged him with blasphemy.

Earlier, unable to trace Sawan Masih, the mob found his father, 65-year-old Charman Masih, whom they beat severely.

Bishop Shaw said that Dr Paul Bhatti, Minister of National Harmony and Minority Affairs, alerted police and civil authorities to the threat of possible attack on Christians in Joseph Colony on at least two occasions.

Speaking to ACN, Bhatti said: "It is a very sad situation. Now we are trying to overcome this shocking situation."

"We are speaking to the Government of Punjab to follow it up and do what is possible to ensure that this will not happen again."