01/17/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Lahore: Christians protest over ‘Gosha-e-Aman’, demanding restitution and compensation

Hundreds of people demonstrate near the site of the old institute demolished on 10 January. For the local community, that day is now known as ‘Black Tuesday’. Mgr Shaw dismisses the authorities’ claim that Christians were illegally occupying the property. For Anglican bishop, their action is symptomatic of the injustice towards and lack of respect for religious minorities.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Christian community continues its protest against the demolition of the ‘Gosha-e-Aman’ (Corner of Peace) Institute, open to both Christians and Muslims, by the Punjab provincial government. Hundreds of people have taken to the street, including priests, nuns, pastors, activists, representatives of civil society groups as well as Christians from 20 different denominations. In their view, the government’s action on 10 January against the institute (which was also a community centre) was unlawful.

Located on Allama Iqbal Road, in Lahore’s Garhi Shahu neighbourhood, the institute was run by Caritas Pakistan and the Lahore Charitable Association, and was open to Christians and Muslims, the poor and seniors, irrespective of religion or social status.

By ordering the demolition of the building and the seizure of the land, provincial authorities ignored a court order staying any action before it could rule on who owned building and land.

Equally, demonstrators slammed the “desecration of Holy Bibles” and the “destruction of personal property and items” during the demolition.

Peter Jacob, executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace; Joseph Francis, director of the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement; and Younis Alam from the Minority Rights Commission as well as many Catholic and Protestant leaders were among those present (pictured) at the rally.

For Christians, 10 January shall be remembered as ‘Black Tuesday’. It will go down in history as another example of the violence and persecution the provincial government has perpetrated against Pakistan’s religious minorities.

Protesters want the return of the property and compensation for the damages incurred. Otherwise, they will continue their action until the authorities meet their demands.

Mgr Sebastian Shaw, auxiliary bishop of Lahore, blames the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) for the unlawful seizure of the land.

“If we held the land without a title, why does the government of Punjab say it will return it?” asked the prelate. The issue “is not about land, but about a blatant violation of the rights of the country’s minorities.”

Anglican Bishop Alexander John Malik agrees. “Such actions show what too much power can do, and are evidence of the great injustice inflicted upon Pakistan’s religious minorities,” he said.

Founded in 1887, the Gosha-e-Aman Institute covered a two-acre area worth billions of rupees. It included an old age home, a girl’s school, a convent and a chapel for prayer.

The issue over the building and its surrounding land has been before the Lahore High Court for a while even though the Church has all the papers to prove ownership.

The controversy over ownership began when a woman convert to Islam claimed ownership to two rooms in the building after she was sheltered there.

(Shafique Khokhar and Jibran Khan contributed to the article)
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