Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - "We have lived here for 25 years, since the then (martyred) Bishop John Joseph gave us this land, from a government tender. Then, one day, the Samundari municipal government suddenly demolished our houses, without warning us," said Fazal Masih, a local Christian elder who had his own home torn down. The town is located in Faisalabad District, Punjab province.
Speaking to AsiaNews, he said, "For months, we have been forced to live in some makeshift shelters on land "owned by local Muslims" and "their relatives". During this period, "Part of our group has been forced to live in tents, and our relatives have received threats from Muslim neighbours."
For dozens of Christian families in Samundari, this is a desperate situation. For years, they lived in the town, in 72 houses. In recent years, 13 additional houses were built near a local government hospital that was never used, except as a barn and an animal shelter.
Asghar Ali Jutt, a local Muslim landowner, has always held a deep hatred towards Christians because of their faith.
On several occasions, he has insulted and attacked the local community, threatening to destroy their homes.
Finally, he went to the city administration, claiming that the Christian houses were illegal and had to be torn down.
Following his appeal, the authorities destroyed the houses last year during the period of Lent, without warning the residents.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Nusrat Bibi, one of the residents of the demolished houses, said that some of things he owned had been stolen.
"We are forced to live with relatives," he explained, "and to work in the fields owned by Muslims without pay. We are still victims of threats and harassment by Muslims."
After the destruction of the houses, "we no longer even have toilets or latrines." For this reason, "we want our homes rebuilt so that we can live with respect and dignity".
On Monday, Christian leader Robin Daniel, and a representative of the South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK) visited the area to assess personally the situation and show solidarity to the victims. Both described the actions by the local government as "barbaric behaviour" vis-à-vis "the poor Christians," who have been homeless for the past year.
The case has drawn the attention of Provincial Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Khalil Tahir Sindhu who wrote a letter to the city administration asking them to find a solution for the Christians.
With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia.
About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).