A Taliban splinter group claimed responsibility for a March 27 suicide bombing which killed over 70, mostly women and children, in a children’s park in the city of Lahore, Pakistan.
At least 300 more were wounded and the death toll is expected to rise.
A spokesman for Jamat ul-Ahrar told Associated Press the attack deliberately targeted Christians celebrating Easter.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif declared three days of mourning and schools and businesses in Lahore remain closed on March 28. Pakistan’s army chief convened an emergency meeting of the intelligence services to track down those responsible.
Christians in Pakistan have long faced difficulties and persecution. Last year it was reported that 100,000 Christians fled Pakistan over the last few years, to countries such as Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the Philippines. They fled persecution both at the hands of extremists like those who perpetrated yesterday’s bombing, but also persecution by the state, which uses blasphemy laws to harass Christians and sometimes arrest or even kill them.
2015 was the worst year on record for Christian persecution in Pakistan, according to Open Doors USA, an organization that monitors Christian persecution worldwide.
This year Pakistan’s parliament adopted a resolution which would declare Easter, along with the Hindu festivals Holi and Diwali, public holidays. Whether this attack was intended to destabilize and penalize the state for introducing that concession to pluralism, or if it was simply another attempt to drive Christians out of Pakistan for good, the government needs to take a lot more action to defend minority rights.
Unless, of course, as many suspect, the Pakistani state actually wants all Christians gone.
Get a preview of Clarion Project’s upcoming film, Faithkeepers, about the violent persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. The film features exclusive footage and testimonials of Christians, Baha’i, Yazidis, Jews, and other minority refugees, and a historical context of the persecution in the region.