20 January 2016
CHURCH ABLAZE IN MANGA MANDI
On 7 January at around 1am, items on top of the church roof were set alight in Manga Mandi, Lahore.
"The fire gutted the roof, but it could not enter the building because the iron doors were closed," the catechist, Dildar Masih, told World Watch Monitor.
Initially, the police believed the fire to have been caused by a short circuit, but the wires were not near the fire and had not been damaged.
"The church boundary wall had footprints, suggesting someone had scaled it. None of us saw anyone entering or leaving the church, so the suspect remains unidentified," continued Dildar. "The police have asked for two days and then it will be decided if a [police] First Information Report [FIR] will be lodged."
FIRE INSIDE SANDHA PHATAK CHURCH
Less than five hours later, 80 kilometres away, an intruder was caught setting fire to Bibles and hymn books in Victory Church in Sandh Phatak - a village near the town in which a Christian couple were brutally killed by a mob for alleged blasphemy.
Church-goer, Saddiqa Bibi, found the man when she went to attend morning worship. She immediately informed her husband, John Masih, and they locked the man inside.
"We gathered other Christians, who informed the police, who arrived in about half an hour," explained John Masih. "Until then, the man first threatened us and then tried to bribe us. He also said that he was quite influential and that nothing could be done to him.
"He told the police that he had come from Pasrur in Sialkot district [200 kilometres away] and that his name was Muhammad Azhar. The police took him into custody the same day, pending a medical assessment for mental health, and we hope justice will be done."
INTIMIDATION AGAINST CHRISTIANS
Prior to these attacks, an incident of intimidation took place on 3 January in a village near Pasrur. A man named Muhammad Rashid disrupted a Christian meeting which was taking place on the premises of a believer called Bashir Masih.
"We had acquired permission from the district police," said Bashir Masih. "We told [Muhammad Rashid] his disruption was quite disrespectful to our religion, but he said that none of the Christians could stop him. Though he continued his disruption, we took him out without any fight."
The Christians continued to worship, during which time Rashid, with his father, went to the police station and submitted a report saying that Christians had beaten him.
"The next day, we submitted a report, stating that Rashid had disrupted our religious gathering and that all the participants were ready to testify to this," explained Bashir.
"While we were [taking the matter to the chairman], about 30 to 40 men, armed with clubs and axes, surrounded our houses. They called us names and demanded the Christians come out, but they locked themselves in and informed the emergency police. The 30 men did not disperse until the police arrived."
Bashir believed the group of men bore a grudge against the Christians after two Muslim men were arrested for raping a Christian woman in the village a few months earlier. Furthermore, the church they had once met in had been forcibly closed nearly 15 years ago after two men had been accused of blasphemy. "The people who took possession of the church, and others, joined hands so that we would be thrown out of the village and our properties confiscated," he surmised.
Bashir and the Christians have now submitted two applications: a case against Rashid for disrupting the worship service, and another one for gathering with the intention of causing harm. "So now Rashid's father has also filed another application that he was beaten by Christians, who broke his teeth," said Bashir. "The doctors have so far rejected the claim, saying he lost his teeth due to old age and not a beating."
PERSECUTION AGAINST CHRISTIANS IN PAKISTAN
Pakistan is once again in the highest ten countries in which it is hardest to be a Christian, according to the 2016 Open Doors World Watch List. The country rose from being number eight in 2015 to number six this year. Pakistan has seen a significant increase of violence against Christians and the nation's infamous blasphemy laws continue to be abused against Christians to settle personal scores.
Source: World Watch Monitor