The situation of Youhanabad’s Christians continues to worsen. By Nasir Saeed

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It is now more than two weeks since the tragedy of Youhanabad, but situation continues to worsen as recently three more Christians, Shamim Bhatti, Javed and six-year-old girl, Anmol, died because of the injuries they suffered during the attacks on the churches on March 15. There are still dozens of Christians in various hospitals receiving medical treatment, some of them in serious condition.
Many Christians are still afraid of coming back to their homes because after Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s order, the police continue to arrest Christians on mere suspicion and without any evidence against them.
Nearly sixty families have contacted CLAAS for help, and to find out about their loved ones who are still missing after the attacks. People are worried as there are rumours that those who are arrested by the police are being tortured, and some people have been killed. According to some reports, the police have arrested 100s of Christians, not only from Youhanabad, but from nearby Christian towns too.
Keeping in view this situation and Christians’ apprehensions, CLAAS has submitted a writ petition to Lahore High court against the police and chief minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif. In the petition CLAAS has requested a record of all the Christians who have been taken into police custody in connection with Youhanabad, so CLAAS can start legal proceedings and apply for their bail and those who are found innocent can be freed.
Since CLAAS submitted the petition, the police has freed dozens of Christians who were mistreated and even tortured. They are in such a state of paranoia that until now they have not been in a position to record their statements regarding the abuse they suffered at the hands of the police. According to Joseph Francis, Director CLAAS-PK, the police inspector of Nishter Colony police station told the court they don’t have any Christians in their police station as they have not arrested anyone from Youhanabad. This is despite Youhanabad being in Nishter Colony police station’s jurisdiction. But on the request of CLAAS’ lawyer, the court summoned the SSP (senior superintendent police), but he failed to appear in court with the exact number of arrests. Such an attitude of the police has further enhanced the apprehensions of the Christian community. According to reports 28 Christians have been transferred to jail. CLAAS is going to get the details of the charges against them and then apply for bail. Mr Francis has said the actual number could be very high as more than 50 Christian families from Youhanabad have contacted CLAAS for help and legal aid. The real challenge for CLAAS is to find out where are the rest of the Christians are, and what the actual number is.
It is becoming more challenging as there are some rumours that the police may arrest Joseph Francis as he has submitted a written petition against them and the government. Such a thing cannot be ruled out in a country like Pakistan.
Mr Francis has said he is not afraid of being arrested, and CLAAS is standing with its people in this difficult time. He added the he was fully prepared to face the consequences. CLAAS’s priority is to provide free legal aid and release those who are innocent and are charged wrongly. He further said that our lawyers are ready to start legal proceedings but since the number is already high and continues to grow, we need our brothers’ and sisters’ prayers and financial support. Donations can be made online at http://www.claas.org.uk/payment-cart/

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