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8 Pastors Arrested After Largest City in Southern Punjab Bans House Churches

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Church leaders in the city of Bahawalpur are urging Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Chief Minister of Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister government of Pakistan to uphold the constitution after the administration imposed restrictions on Christian worship in their city.

Please sign and circulate our petition to support their efforts. (click here)     

Authorities have ordered the closure of house churches in Bahawalpur after Muslims complained that they were disturbed by Christian prayers. Some Christians across the city hold their regular services in the houses of pastors and other members until they are able to afford a proper church building. However, when they gather at these locations for prayer the Punjabi police force are now arresting their pastors.

Several Pastor's have been arrested under this targeted campaign against house churches instigated by the district council and enforced by Bahawalpur police, these men who were released on bail pending a later court date include:
 

  • Rev Arslan-ul-Haq  
  • Rev Munir Masih (Gospel of Salvation) 
  • Rev Arshd Baghicha (Kings Jesus Pentecostal church) 
  • Rev Javad Veru (Pentecostal church) 
  • Rev Mubashir Maqsood ( United Presbysterian Church Pakistan) 
  • Rev Patress Nawab Gill 
  • Rev Shoukat Masih 
  • Rev Arshad Rehmat ( Gospel of Salvation) 
There are only four church buildings in Bahawalpur; which is the largest city in Southern Punjab. These historic church buildings of The Catholic Church of Pakistan and The Church of Pakistan were built in the city of Bahawalpur prior to the 1947 independence of Pakistan and in 1971. These buildings now do not provide an adequate space for the Christian community in this municipal district given the other restrictions imposed.

Permits to build new church buildings in the area are not granted if the site is within 200 meters from any mosque or 100 metres away from a Muslim residential home. 

Local pastors in Bahawalpur want to Government of Pakistan take action against on those authorities who are banning house churches and want BPCA help them in this mission because they are unable to build proper buildings for churches to accommodate public worship.

Local churches are now not allowed to use a PA system during services, in addition to being unnecessarily restrictive; this action impedes the communication of the message from the pulpit to those who have come to hear it, as church congregations on average have a large attendances on any given Sunday - hence amplification within the building would be required. It is estimated that more than 1000 Christian families live in the city of Bhawalpur.

In addition to theses logistical restrictions Church services have to be rescheduled, as they are not permitted to conflict with Muslim prayers in Mosques in that locality.

Given the inspirational value of raising of a 140 foot cross in Karachi a project led by a Pakistani Christian businessman (click here), Bahawalpur’s administration has also placed limits and special permits on the common practice of erecting of crosses on gates of new Church buildings. Which seems intended to be to make the church invisible in a process that ostensibly seeks to minimalize the presence of Christians to reduce offence to the primary Muslim citizens of the city.     

Banning house church meetings for prayer in the city of Bahawalpur pulls the rug out from under religious freedom and guarantees provided to religious minorities in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, showing how basic rights are suppressed.

The original Constitution of Pakistan did not discriminate between Muslims and non-Muslims. However, the amendments made during President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq's Islamization led to the controversial Hudood Ordinance and Shariat Court. Later, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government tried to enforce a Shariat Bill, passed in May 1991. After the incident of 9/11 Pervez Musharraf's government took steps to curtail the religious intolerance of non-muslims but this has had little effect.

Article: 20 Freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions


20. Freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions. —Subject to law, public order and morality-
(a) every citizen shall have the right to profess, practise and propagate his religion; and
(b) every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.


Unnamed sources cited in previous reports claim (sic), “Bahawalpur is headquarter of one banned Muslim outfit and member of that militant group had put pressure on city administration to ban Christian prayers in city” confirming Southern Punjab as a safe haven to Islamic extremists . These militant groups influence government administration and mandate actions against churches not only the city of Bahawalpur but seek to extend this policy across the region to other cities in Punjab.

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the BPCA, said:

"Draconian measures such as these are not new.  Churches in Karachi and Badhami Bagh in Pakistan have both previously had to sign contracts, declaring they will not hold services at times that are offensive to Muslims, that they will divide seating for women and men and will not speak the name of Christ in the streets or allow music to permeate the environment and negatively impact on the sensitivities of Muslims (click here).

"This diabolical ordinance however goes further then these previous coerced local contracts presided over by local police and attended by a majority numbers of Muslims. 

"Infact this authoritative control by Islamic extremists within a district authority illustrates a significant regression in policy within a government structure. 

"The ordinance breaches Article 18 of the Human Rights Convention which Pakistan has ratified and existing equality and freedom of faith provisions within the constitution of Pakistan, world leaders should be taking note of this decision and act to prevent a further decine in the qulaity of life for Christians in Pakistan, which has reached its nadir."

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has also shutdown Christian stations who were broadcasting earlier this year (click here).

Mr Chowdhry, added:

"Donald Trump is a controversial figure, however the BPCA supports his recent comments declaring the potential  for the US to re-evaluate their relationship with Pakistan. His Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has even gone as far as suggesting Pakistan could lose their position as a non-NATO ally,

"Mr Trump has been outspoken about the dualism in the war against terror in which Pakistan are often found to be harbouring terrorists. 

"If nothing else this dualism described by Trump exists within the Pakistani nations drive towards the genocide of Christians in Pakistan (click here).

"We are are praying other western nations also recognize Pakistan's disingenuous partnership in the war against terror so that they refrain from covering up the human rights abuses that have made the lives of Christians living there a nightmare."



 
Church leaders in Bhawalpur discuss a way forward.



Amber Saroya with Church leaders in Bhawalpur



 

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