Lahore Christians protest against cemetery confiscations for real estate speculation
The family of the former guardian of Gora cemetery is illegally occupying archdiocesan property, trying to sell it with fake documents. In 1972 the government nationalised schools and colleges in Punjab and Sindh.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – A group of more than a hundred Christians protested against the occupation of a cemetery that belongs to the local Church.
At the cry of "Down with Punjab government" and "Down with encroachment mafia", protesters on Tuesday blocked the road in front of the Lahore Press Club for more than two hours.
The Gora Qabrastan (cemetery) Action Committee (GQAC) organised the rally to oppose the confiscation of the Christian cemetery in the heart of the provincial capital.
For the past two years, the committee has been demanding the removal of the family of the retired graveyard guardian, Munawar, who has been using three residential buildings (more than 500 sq metres).
GQAC deputy chancellor Khalid Shahzad told AsiaNews that "the family is trying to sell the houses with fake documents.”
“Both the Catholic and Protestant bishops sent the former guardian an eviction notice, but the family refuses to leave. We have organised innumerable meetings with district officials, but our complaints remain buried under the bribes."
In August 2017, the Supreme Court of Pakistan "conveyed its displeasure" to its Human Rights Cell “with direction to submit report within two weeks" about the affair.
Illegally grabbing Church-owned land is nothing new in the country. At least three cemeteries are currently illegally occupied in the archdiocese of Lahore alone.
According to real estate website Zameen.com, Pakistan's real estate is soaring as house prices have more than doubled in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.
In 2012, the Lahore Development Authority bulldozed more than 8,000 sq metres of land that housed the Gosh e Aman missionary institute, a chapel, a Caritas laboratory and other social welfare buildings operated by the Catholic Church.
In 1972, the Pakistani government nationalised all Church schools and colleges in Punjab and Sindh provinces.
They were denationalised between 1985 and 1995 without compensation. Several missionary schools are still under government control.
"Instead of paying us rent for 35 years, Churches have had to pay to take back control of their institutions,” said Colonel (retired) Azim Ilyas, coordinator of the Lahore Diocesan Board of Education, Church of Pakistan.
A lot of money was “spent in the renovation of dilapidated buildings which affected the quality of education in once esteemed institutes. Those still in government possession have turned into ruins.”