10/20/2010, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Rawalpindi: Christian chapel at Gordon College attacked

by Jibran Khan
The place of worship, which is separate from the main college building, was closed for eight years. As soon as it was reopened in April, a group of fanatics tried to destroy it from the inside. Yesterday, a new attack was carried out, fortunately, without serious consequences. However, the attackers locked themselves inside the church.

Rawalpindi (AsiaNews) – A group of about 20 Muslim fundamentalists last night attacked the Christian chapel at Gordon College, a Presbyterian founded university level educational facility in Rawalpindi. Shooting their way into the building, they got inside chapel, which they did not destroy because the police arrived. However, the latter did not intervene and has allowed the attackers to stay in the building, this according to Ms Robinson Ashgar. “The security guard, Imran, was wounded,” she told AsiaNews.

Her husband and other Christian leaders from the Robinson Asghar Community Development Ministry (RCDM), which is leasing the building, are in South Africa at a meeting of religious leaders. Rev Samson Bhatti and other RCDM members alerted the police of the attack. Some 40 people eventually gathered in front of the chapel, demanding justice from the local administration.

Speaking to the media, Rev Bhatti complained that “Shakeel Awan, the local National Assembly Member for the Muslim League-Nawaz Group and the District Administration do not want a church here. They want to demolish the Church that was built decades ago,” he said. “Christians in Punjab have suffered since the Muslim League came to power in the state, and the attacks of the past two years are proof of that.”

An important fact is police refusal to register the case when a complaint was filed, Prof Salamat Akhtar said.

The chapel, which was reopened in April 2010 after eight years, currently belongs to the Evacuee Trust, and is supposed to return to the Christian community. However, the property could be sold to a third party under Pakistani law.

The illegal occupation of the site is an attempt to take over the building de facto. A similar incident occurred back in April but then police moved in swiftly and arrested the culprits.

Despite the religious overtones to the affair, moderate Muslims in Rawalpindi have come out in support of the Christian community.

“It is shameful that in an Islamic state, religious places are attacked,” Muhammad Mahfoz Khan, a Muslim scholar at the Jamia Mosque, told AsiaNews. “This is an attack on the sanctity of the church; we condemn the illegal occupation” of the chapel, he added.

Indeed, “It is the responsibility of the state to protect the religious places,” said another Islamic scholar, Hussan Ahmed Malik. In his view, “If the state itself gets involved in attacking and taking over religious places, such a state cannot survive for long”.

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