In Punjab, Christians who tried to retake their homes grabbed by Muslims suffer gunshot wounds (video)
by Kamran Chaudhry

Shahbaz Masih Gill, 36, and Samina Tasneem, 28, were hit in the legs. For two months they lived in Lahore because of a land dispute with a Muslim in the village of Sankhatra. “We demand an end to terrorism against minorities,” Christian pastor said.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - Two Christians have survived after they were fired upon by armed men who wanted to prevent them from regaining possession of their land.

The incident occurred yesterday in the village of Sankhatra (Punjab province), where the Christian community blocked the streets to protest against the illegal occupation of their properties.

For months they have been unable to go back into their homes because of a land dispute with a politician from the ruling party.

The wounded are Shahbaz Masih Gill, 36, and Samina Tasneem, 28. Both suffered gunshot wounds to the legs and are currently in hospital.

The police took their statement and filed a case under the Pakistan Penal Code, sections 324 (Attempt to commit qatl-i-amd, i.e. murder), 148 (Rioting, armed with deadly weapon), and 149 (Every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object).

"I was coming home after fixing an electric motor when armed men on a motorcycle stopped and attacked me with wooden sticks and punches,” Gill told AsiaNews.

“With my forehead bleeding, I joined the protest against the attack. We had gathered at 6:50 pm when they returned and shot five fires.”

Despite this, “We did not panic and retaliated by throwing bricks at the attackers causing them to flee. That’s when I realised blood was dripping from my right leg.”

Tasneem, mother of two, is also being treated at a local hospital for a wound caused by a bullet that passed above her right ankle.

The two Christians belong to a group of 30 families threatened by Muhammad Ismail, a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party, who is claiming 1,745 square metres of land adjacent to the Alba Presbyterian church.

In 1981 a local Muslim landowner named Budhan Khan wanted to buy the land at an auction, but the sale was cancelled. Now his son Ismail is using false papers to grab the land. This has forced Christians to flee on two occasions. They returned home on 14 May after two months as refugees in front of the Lahore Press Club.

Rev Aashir Aftaab, who was attacked in the past for defending his co-religionists, said that "A former member of Provincial Assembly of the Punjab had guaranteed our safety. We demand an end to terrorism against minorities, protection by police and the immediate arrest of the attackers.”

For Fr James Channan, regional coordinator for the United Religions Initiative, “the situation is alarming” for minority Christians in Pakistan.

“It is unfortunate that the government took no action,” said the Dominican. “Nobody took any interest in their plight while they lived on dirt ground in Lahore with women and children.

“Now they have been forced to return to face a dangerous situation. We appeal to state authorities for relief,” he said.