01/21/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Lahore, Catholics go to court against the "blasphemous" demolition of their institute

by Jibran Khan
A woman has filed a complaint against the authorities, for demolition of "Gosha-e-Aman". Among the crimes, the violation of the blasphemy law, for the destruction of copies of the Bible and a church. Archbishop Emeritus: The provincial government is "running out of funds" and is looking for "easy targets to fill the budget deficit."
Lahore (AsiaNews) - The Catholic community of Lahore is up in arms against the illegal demolition of the "Gosha-e-Aman", a "place of peace" that welcomed Christians and Muslims, last January 10 by the provincial government of Punjab. One victim has decided to take the case to court by filing a written complaint against the Development Authority and other officials involved in the affair. Meanwhile, it appears that one of the police officers present during the demolition of the building (Malik Ahmed Raza Tahir), was in charge of security in Gojra in August 2009, when a Muslim mob attacked the local Christian minority, resulting in seven dead - burned alive – and the burning of several homes and properties.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the archbishop emeritus Mgr. Lawrence Saldanha condemned the demolition decided by the authorities, the prelate emphasizes that we are in the presence of "ancient institution, worthy of respect," owned "by the Church in peace for 125 years" and used "for charitable purposes."

The faithful have dubbed this past January 10 "Black Tuesday" and demand the restitution of property and compensation for damage, if not, they warn, protests will continue until the authorities meet their demands. The institute "Gosha-e-Aman", founded in 1887, is surrounded by two acres of land, worth a total of billions of rupees. Inside there was a home for the elderly, a girls' school, a convent and a chapel for prayer. The dispute relating to the possession of the building and surrounding area had long been the center of a lawsuit, it seems the demolition was triggered by a woman - converted to Islam - who in the past sought shelter in the center.

Catholic Christian leaders and government officials have expressed solidarity with the victims, in search of a makeshift shelter that can accommodate them in the coming weeks. In Lahore Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants and non-governmental organizations have strongly condemned the abuse by the local government. Zenobia Richards, 61, one of the victims of the demolition, has launched a lawsuit by filing a petition to the High Court, citing the authority for urban development, along with other officials. She worked 24 years for Caritas Pakistan and lived in "Gosha-e-Aman". "It was a center of peace - she says - a lot of memories bind me to that place. That's why I wanted to bring a case against those who demolished the building, which I call home. "

During demolition operations, the workers also destroyed a statue of the Our Lady and several copies of the Bible: "I used to pray in this place," adds Zenobia (pictured, on the rubble of the building) and that's why "I intend to cite the crime of blasphemy "because they" desecrated a church and religious material in my house".  "This is not just a piece of land - she adds - but the emotions, feelings, rights of minorities in Pakistan." She says she is "not afraid" and points the finger at the Punjab Minister for Minorities: “I will fight for my rights, "she concludes, confirming today that she has filed an appeal in court.

Archbishop Saldanha, archbishop emeritus of Lahore, speaks of "clear violation of the rights of minorities." The prelate told AsiaNews that the government "is short of funds" and is looking for "easy targets to fill the budget deficit." He adds that Catholics can and should continue in the protest and "appeals to the international community: I myself have spoken to the Department for religious freedom in Canada." The Archbishop hopes that international pressure "will have a positive impact and that the land mafia will fail in their criminal intent."

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