Lahore Court rejects application under blasphemy law in Catholic institute demolition case
by Jibran Khan
Judges reject Zenobia Richards' appeal. She was a resident of the Gosh-e-Aman Institute, which was destroyed on orders of the Punjab government. She based her claim on the destruction of copies of the Bible, a rosary and a statue of the Virgin Mary. The Church has been silent over the matter. A Lahore Catholic says more courage is needed to defend rights.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - The High Court rejected an appeal filed by Zenobia Richards, 61, a resident of the former Gosh-e-Aman (place of peace) Institute. The Catholic-run institution, which was open to Christians and Muslims, was demolished on 10 January on orders of the Punjab provincial government. Initially, the Catholic Church had filed a case over the building's ownership and demolition. However, Ms Richards filed a second case, accusing those who tore down the structure of blasphemy because they also destroyed copies of the Bible, a rosary and a statue of the Virgin Mary.

For weeks, Zenobia Richards has defied catholic leaders who called for prudence and to let Church leaders handle the case in court and with the proper authorities. Instead, she decided to pursue legal channels against the police and the Lahore Development Authority using the 'black law'.

The judges disagreed with her claim. Under pressure from the Punjab government, they threw out of court her request under Articles 295 and 295A of the Pakistan Penal Code to punish those responsible for the unlawful destruction of religious material belonging to the Christian minority.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Ms Richards said she fears "no one". In fact, she points a finger at Kamran Michael, a minority member of the Punjab legislature, accusing him of being "involved in the matter."

She cannot hold back her anger over the wall of silence that has befallen the desecration of religious material. "I can proudly say that I have fought against the corrupt system and will continue my struggle."

Her lawyer, Yousaf Diyal, the Church hierarchy has shown weakness in the matter by not taking a "firm stand" against the illegal demolition.

Another Lahore Catholic, who asked for his name to be withheld, said that the Church, in order to find a solution, decided not to make it a public case.

This is a "clear case of violating a right and of the illegal demolition of a charitable institution", he explained. Church leaders should take clearer position.  Instead, silence is "weakening Christians". For her part, Ms Richards should be praised as an example Christians should follow to "stand for their rights."

Established in 1887, the Gosh-e-Aman Institute stood on a 2-acre area now worth billions of rupees. It had a senior citizens' home, a girls' school, a convent and a chapel.

The legal arguments over who owned the structure and the land has been going on for some time; at least since a woman convert to Islam had sought shelter in the facility.

On orders of the provincial government, the structure was demolished on 10 January, a day dubbed 'black Monday' by Pakistani Christians.