Youhanabad church attack: 41 Christians and one Muslim acquitted

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Lahore (AsiaNews) The Anti-Terrorist Court (ATC) in Lahore acquitted 42 people, 41 Christians and one Muslim, in connection with the killing of two Muslims mistaken for terrorists after two Christian churches were hit by suicide bombers in Youhanabad in March 2015.

The court gave the accused the benefit of the doubt over the riot that took place in a highly charged atmosphere in which they saw friends and relatives blown to pieces.

Forty defendants were freed today and went home; the other two will follow shortly.

On 15 March 2015, two Taliban terrorists blew themselves up at the entrance of St John’s Catholic Church and the Anglican Christ Church killing 27 people and wounding more than 70.

The death toll would have been much higher had some Christians not stopped the attackers from entering the churches, dying themselves in the blast.

The bombings sparked a riot that led to the lynching of the two Muslims mistaken for the terrorists by a frightened and angry crowd.

Whilst the police failed to arrest the people behind the attacks, scores of Christians ended up in jail on charges of arson, rioting, and damaging state property.

Out of 200 people arrested, charges were laid against 47 people. Since 2015, two Christian defendants have died in prison and four more went on the run.

The National Justice and Peace Commission of the Pakistani Bishops’ Conference took on the legal costs of 12 accused, including the one Muslim, and financially helped all 42 prisoners.

Christian organisations are grateful to Punjab’s Minister for Human Right and Minority Affairs Ejaz Alam for his efforts in solving the case. Thanks to his support, the court acquitted 47 defendants, including the four who escaped.

“It is really difficult for ordinary people to have justice in Pakistan,” activist Nadeem Anthony told AsiaNews. “They don’t’ have access to justice because the system is deficient. The defendants spent five years behind bars, and no one has ever spoken of the 27 Christians killed in the explosive attacks.”

“I welcome the decision of the ATC to acquit innocent people,” he added. “I really appreciate the decision of Judge Arshad Hussain Bhutta. However, families still receive threats. The state must guarantee their protection; the security of these people is at risk.”

by Shafique Khokhar