Pakistani government under fire for ordering church demolition

 

Pakistani government under fire for ordering church demolition

Author: 

George Conger

Christian leaders have denounced the seizure and demolition by the Punjab government of a two acre site in Lahore that housed a church, a women’s shelter, and seven homes.
The Punjab government has defended its destruction of the properties saying it acquired the land after one of the residents at the shelter announced her conversion to Islam.
On 10 January 2012 residents living in the church properties on Allama Iqbal Road in Lahore’s Garhi Sahu district were awakened at 6:30 in the morning and told to leave their homes immediately. Bulldozers then leveled the church and all other buildings on the site.
The Catholic Bishop of Lahore Sebastian Shaw told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that what the “state government of Punjab has done is a very, very brutal act of injustice.”
“How can they do such a thing, just to come in, wreck a charitable institution and ruin the lives of people living there? They do not listen to anybody.”
The Church of Pakistan’s Bishop of Lahore, Dr. Alexander Malik condemned the destruction of the church buildings. He also called for the state to register a case of Blasphemy against the local government officials who ordered the demolition as Bibles, crosses and other church ornaments were destroyed.
This incident was a manifestation of the state’s “unaccounted power” and demonstrated the “grave injustice and cruelty [directed] towards non-Muslims/religious minorities in Pakistan,” Bishop Malik said.
Bishop Shaw added that this was a “criminal act of land-grabbing by the government functionaries” as the Catholic Church held title deeds to the property showing it acquired the property in 1887. The controversy over the ownership of the land began several years ago, the Lahore press reported, when one of the residents of the shelter announced her conversion to Islam and began to harass the nuns who ran the refuge. She refused to leave the shelter and questioned the ownership of the two rooms she occupied.
The state intervened in the dispute, but was unable to resolve the disagreement. In 2007 local government officials announced they were confiscating the land, and claimed to have notified the church of this decision. A government spokesman said that a “land-mafia” group had taken adverse possession of the property, and had used armed gunmen to drive away local officials when they had attempted to gain access to the property.
However, local residents had disputed this claim, according to the Express Tribune, and Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the National Commission on Justice and Peace, said that a court had issued a restraining order forbidding destruction of the buildings.
On 16 January 2012 Justice Mansoor Ali Shah of the Lahore High Court ordered the local government authority to respond to the violation of the court order staying demolition.
This article was first published in The Church of England Newspaper edition of January 20, 2012 on p 6.