01/13/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Abducted Protestant clergyman freed in Peshawar, with signs of torture on his body

by Qaiser Felix
The pastor was kidnapped last Friday by unidentified men for unknown reasons. The bishop of Peshawar refers to repeated threats towards local clergymen and a climate of “religious intolerance,” but reiterates his intention not to give in to violence.
  Peshawar (AsiaNews) – Rev Tanzeel Zafar, a young pastor with the Church of Pakistan who was kidnapped last Friday evening by two unidentified men from the city’s Cantonment area, was found on Sunday night alive but badly injured near the gate of Saint John’s Cathedral Church in Peshawar, Bishop Mano Rumalshah, bishop of Peshawar, said.

“Even he was not able to move and walk properly [. . .] there is no bone fracture according to the initial report of the doctors,” the prelate told AsiaNews.

After first aid was performed the young clergyman was taken to Peshawar’s Mission Hospital where he was treated for his injuries.

Asif Bhatti, a Christian member of the North West Frontier Provincial Assembly, said that both his family and Church authorities have filed a First Information Report with two different police stations.

It is unclear why he was abducted but police should be able to apprehend the culprits very soon.

Bishop Rumalshah said he had no knowledge about the kidnappers but the police took Pastor Zafar’s statement and is now investigating the incident.

“But one thing is very clear, this incident is not one based on personal enmity”, Bishop Rumalshah explained “The kidnappers were well aware who Zafar was and where he was serving.”

“We were very much worried about our pastor because in some cases in the past people were not returned alive”, the bishop said.

“We received threatening letters”, he added, addressed specifically to certain clergymen, including Pastor Zafar.

Bishop Rumalshah reiterated his intention not to give in to threats and said that church activities will continue. “Religious intolerance is always hanging over” us, he said. “We have to face this situation and cannot run away”.

Last June the Taliban abducted 16 Christians in the Banarasabad area. The next day they were handed over to the authorities in Bara district (Peshawar) by militants of Lashkar-e-Islam, a fundamentalist group.

In January 2008 Sajid William, a 29-year-old Protestant church worker, was shot dead by unknown assailants when he was driving a car in January 2008 in Peshawar.

In May 2007, two incidents were reported of Christians receiving letters from militant groups telling them to convert to Islam or face death.

In April 2005, Babar Samson, a clergyman and a staff member of Shelter Now International, was also murdered along with his driver by religious extremists in Peshawar.

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