Christians were arrested in 2015 for the murder of two Muslims wrongly suspected of carrying out church bombings
Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore has handed over rickshaws and business supplies to Christians and a Muslim freed from prison.
“We aim at making you independent with means of employment. This is our Christmas gift to you. Those demanding motorcycles will be further supported. We shall completely support you,” he said.
Archbishop Shaw was speaking on Dec. 19 at St. John’s Catholic Church in Youhanabad, a low-income area of Lahore that is home to about 150,000 Christians.
Punjab’s Minister for Human Rights, Minorities Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Ejaz Alam Augustine joined him in handing over the keys of rickshaws and support items among 40 Christians arrested in 2015 for the murder of two Muslims wrongly suspected of carrying out church bombings in Youhanabad.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, an offshoot of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, claimed responsibility for suicide bombings during Sunday Mass that killed 15 Christians and left more than 70 injured.
Two of the Christian lynching suspects died in prison. All were acquitted on Jan. 29 after a deal to pay “blood money” to the victims’ families.
In February, Archbishop Shaw handed over 2 million rupees for rehabilitation of the freed Christians. Each individual received a check for 50,000 rupees (US$311).
Muhammad Rizwan, the only Muslim beneficiary of the Christmas aid, thanked the archbishop and the parish priest of Youhanabad.
“After returning home, I took a loan of 200,000 rupees to start a business of selling vegetables. The Christmas aid has helped me in getting rid of that burden. The bishop helped me like one of his own. The favor means a lot to me,” he told UCA News.
The minorities minister also appreciated the efforts of the local Church.
“Ever since the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan came to power in 2018, we wanted to free our prisoner brothers. The innocent, including blasphemy victims, suffering in prison are our priority. Asia Bibi was the first one,” he said.
Augustine was referring to the Catholic woman acquitted of blasphemy in 2018 after spending eight years on death row in Pakistan.
On Dec. 15, Lahore High Court acquitted Imran Ghafur after he spent more than 10 years in prison for allegedly burning a sipara (chapter of the Quran) while cleaning his bookshop in Hajweri town, Faisalabad.