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22 October 2012

Religious intolerance: Second church attacked in Karachi in 10 days


A second church was attacked in Karachi on Thursday within a space of 10 days as armed men barged into its premises during a blackout, vandalised it and fled with alms offerings.

Since the beginning of the year, at least six churches in the city have been attacked, looted, fired upon or set ablaze. These churches are located in Christian slums surrounded by various ethnic communities.

The latest church to fall victim to the growing intolerance was the Philadelphia Pentecostal Church of Pakistan, situated in a congested lane of Karachi’s Essa Nagri locality.

On Thursday, armed men broke into the church during a power outage from a graveyard situated next to it, “The church was closed at that time. The men broke the windows, threw the Bibles on the floor and took away cash donations worth Rs40, 000,” said Rev Cornelius, the pastor of the church.

This comes barely 10 days after the St Francis Church was attacked in the Old Haji Camp area by violent protesters demonstrating against electricity load-shedding.

In a rare move, a blasphemy case under section 295-A was registered by the police against the mob.

Past attack on churches in Essa Nagri

Half of the targeted churches are situated in Essa Nagri – one of the largest Christian populated areas in the city. Bordered by ethnic groups and political activists, the locality, which is home to 30 churches, has witnessed a surge in criminal activities against minorities.

A resident and a prominent leader of the Christian community, Michael Javed, said that the community had recently built five walls to separate their area from other communities. “But the police tore down one of the walls to make a gateway for people to go to their mosques. And the church got looted the very next day,” Javed said, adding that their community was being victimised because political parties wanted to take over the area to form their constituencies.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church, also located in Essa Nagri was attacked in May when armed men barged into the area seeking an illegal electricity connection from a pole just before the evening mass was about to commence. A church member, Aftab Bhatti, tried to stop the men but resistance resulted in firing by the opponents at the church.

“They desecrate churches on purpose knowing that it will hurt us most,” said Bhatti, who was shot in his leg. When the angered community went to the main road to protest against desecration of the church, they were treated with a shower of bullets by other community members, resulting in two more injuries.

During the same month, another church in Essa Nagri, St Luke’s Church, situated opposite the house of minority parliamentarian Saleem Khokhar, was attacked. “Churches are being attacked to prevent people from practising their religion freely. We all are Pakistanis and our house of worship should be given protection and security,” Khokhar said, while adding that he too believed that political activists are creating a ruckus in Christian areas to pressure them to join their respective political parties.

Earlier this year, a church was wrecked in Manghopir by a group of people praying in a mosque who were irked by schoolchildren singing hymns in the church.

A representative of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Abdul Hai, said that the Taliban mindset is involved in attacking minorities and their houses of worship in the city. “They are the same people who are killing Ahmadis on one hand, and attacking churches to terrorise minorities,” he said.

In most cases, minorities refuse to register FIRs fearing a reprisal, while the police try to play down the incident. Despite visiting the Essa Nagri’s Philadelphia Pentecostal Church of Pakistan, SHO Asif Munawar refused to comment on the matter, saying an investigation would be carried out when a case was registered.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 20th, 2012.


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