05/12/2020, 13.20
PAKISTAN
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Muslims attack Protestant church in Sheikhupura

by Shafique Khokhar

At least one wall destroyed and a cross broken. The culprits wanted to take back land already sold to the church. This is a case of reverse blasphemy. For Punjab lawmaker, the cross has value for Christianity and Islam. “Not only was the cross broken, but our hearts were crushed too," said a local Christian.

Sheikhupura (AsiaNews) – A group of Muslims attacked the Trinity Pentecostal Church in Hakeem Pura, Sheikhupura district, a few dozen kilometres from Lahore, Punjab. The building, built 22 years ago, was desecrated, a wall destroyed, a cross and other valuables broken.

Last Friday, the attackers, led by Awan Abbas, a property developer, and Ali Shan, came armed with guns. They entered the church around noon, taking advantage of the fact that the building was empty due to the coronavirus-related lockdown.

Shouting anti-Christian slogans and showing contempt for the place of worship, they attacked the walls and broke a cross, desecrating the building.

Rev Hadayat, who heads the community, told AsiaNews that the congregation of Trinity Pentecostal Church comprises more than 60 families.

He explained that the community was involved in a dispute over land duly bought last year near the church to accommodate the growing community.

After selling it, the former owner of the empty plot of 101 square metres now wants it back, perhaps to get a better deal.

The Church filed a report of the attack with police and launched a blasphemy case against Abbas and seven other men who vandalised the church.

News of the incident quickly spread across the country, causing anger and sadness among Christians. The community wants Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government to provide greater protection to Pakistan’s minorities and demand the perpetrators be brought to justice.

Boota Masih, a local Christian, told AsiaNews that the group of thugs, after attacking the walls and the cross, challenging anyone who dare oppose them, fled as soon as they heard police was arriving. "Not only was the cross broken, but our hearts were crushed too," he said.

Tariq Masih Gill, a member of the Punjab Provincial Assembly, visited the church. "The cross that was desecrated has great importance and value in both Christianity and Islam,” he said. “The culprits have not only dishonoured our faith, but also our national flag, which also represents minorities.”

Provincial Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Minister Ijaz Augustine also visited the church. He asked police to take immediate action against the perpetrators, without favouritism or discrimination.

Senior officers at the local police station said they were fully committed to the case, and would bring the culprits to justice soon.

So far, however, no one has been arrested. The police are looking for the perpetrators, but they appear to have fled the city. Christians held a protest demanding justice (picture 3).

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