Pakistani Officials Back Muslim Land-Grabbers, Christians Say


Senior district authorities accused of supporting desecration of 150 Christian graves.

LAHORE, Pakistan, March 9 (CDN) — Christians in south Punjab Province are accusing senior district officials of supporting local Muslims who allegedly demolished 150 Christian graves and desecrated holy relics – and are now threatening Christians seeking legal redress.

In the Kot Addu area of Muzaffargarh district, Waseem Shakir told Compass by telephone that an influential Muslim group last Nov. 6 took illegal possession of a 1,210-square yard piece of land designated as a Christian cemetery and set up shops on it. Official records state that the portion of land was allotted as a Christian cemetery, he said.

“Local Muslims demolished 150 Christians’ graves and desecrated the cross and biblical inscriptions on the graves in a bid to construct shops on the property,” said Shakir, a resident of Chak (Village) 518, Peer Jaggi Morr, Kot Addu. “Only five marlas [151.25 square yards] are all that is left for the Christians to bury their dead now.”

Shakir said that all Muzaffargarh area authorities, including the local politicians, were supporting the alleged land-grabbers even as Christians feared a mob attack.

“The situation has come to point where even the local police have warned their higher-ups that the tension could provoke a Gojra-type incident,” he said, adding that Muslim instigators were now openly trying to intimidate him and Boota Masih, who registered a case with police, into dropping the matter.

In Gojra on Aug. 1, 2009, Muslim hordes acting on an unsubstantiated rumor of blasphemy of the Quran – and whipped into a frenzy by local imams and banned terrorist groups – killed at least seven Christians, looted more than 100 houses and set fire to 50 of them. At least 19 people were injured in the melee.

Shakir said Christians had approached police and the district administration to register a case against the Muslims for desecrating their sacred relics and hurting religious sentiments, but authorities have shown little attention to their grievance. Masih registered the complaint on behalf of area Christians, but the station house officer of the Daira Deen Panah Police, Waseem Leghari, altered it to state that Muslims had only occupied a piece of the cemetery land, Shakir said.

“Leghari registered a case against the Muslims under Section 297 of the Pakistan Penal Code [trespass of a place for the dead], which is a bailable offense, despite the fact that a case under the blasphemy law should have been registered against the Muslims for desecrating the Christian holy relics,” Shakir said.

Police took no measures to arrest the 11 named suspects, he added.

“No one seems bothered over the desecration of our cross and biblical inscriptions,” Shakir said.

Section 297 of the penal code states, “Whoever, with the intention of wounding the feelings of any person, or of insulting the religion of any person, or with the knowledge that the feelings of any person are likely to be wounded, or that the religion of any person is likely to be insulted thereby, commits any trespass in any place of worship or on any place of sculpture, or any place set apart for the performance of funeral rites or as a depository for the remains of the dead, or offers any indignity to any human corpse or causes disturbance to any persons assembled for the performance of funeral ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.”

Shakir said that, besides the 150 demolished graves, the illegal occupants had thrown garbage on another 50 graves. The police’s indifferent attitude towards the Christian community had been hurtful, he said, and Christians had repeatedly taken up the issue with District Police Officer (DPO) Chaudhry Manzoor and District Coordination Officer Tahir Khurshid.

They did not take the issue seriously, Shakir said.

DPO Manzoor rejected the Christians’ accusations.

“It’s not as serious a case as they are portraying,” he told Compass. “The people who have built shops on the land are not illegal occupants but the real owners.”

He said Christians were furious because the shopkeepers put some of their belongings on the graves.

“No one has desecrated any Christian holy symbol, book or grave,” he said. “Any fears that the issue could lead to another Gojra are baseless.”

Manzoor said the matter would be resolved amicably.

Napolean Qayyum, leader of the Minorities Wing of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), told Compass that open desecration of the Christian symbols and places and the police’s alleged support of the culprits showed the prejudice of the Punjab government towards minority groups.

“An application regarding this incident is lying in the Punjab chief minister’s secretariat, but it seems the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s [PML-N] government in Punjab wants another Gojra-like incident to take place in Kot Addu,” he said, adding that it was curious that all major violence against Christians usually takes place when the PML-N is in power in the province.

Qayyum said that he had taken up the matter with the PPP leadership.

“It’s a case of blasphemy, and the culprits should have been rounded up under Section 295-A,” he said. “I have contacted Farahnaz Ispahani, the political adviser to President Asif Zardari, and she has assured me of the federal government’s support in this matter.”

He added that stern action against local police and administrative authorities was necessary to set an example for others.

Report from Compass Direct News

NIGERIA: MUSLIM EXTREMISTS BURN CHURCH BUILDING


Saying it was too close to a mosque, Islamists destroy sanctuary in Kwara state.

ILORIN, Nigeria, September 2 (Compass Direct News) – Muslim extremists on Sunday (Aug. 31) set ablaze a church building in the Baboko area of this city in central Nigeria’s Kwara state.

The Rev. Samuel Ogowole told Compass that the extremists barred members of his Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) from getting to the building on Sunday, and the Town Planning Development Authority had sealed off the premises following pressure from area Muslims. The congregation had gone to a site on the outskirts of the city for worship when the Muslim extremists destroyed the church building, a 20 million naira (US$170,575) structure built four years ago.

Rev. Ogowole told Compass that area Muslims had complained that the church building is located near a mosque. Compass found that the church building was 500 meters from the Baboko mosque.

Muslim leaders had filed a complaint with an interfaith panel called the Inter-Religious Committee, established by the Kwara state government to mediate Muslim-Christian conflicts. Rev. Ogowole said the body initially ruled against the Islamists’ claim, but under Muslim pressure later issued a second resolution ordering the church to relocate.

“The Inter-Religious committee after investigating the issue explained that it is not true that our church is close to the mosque, and as such there is no justification of the claims of the Muslims,” he said. “But the Muslims still have not allowed us to worship here in peace.”

To appease the Muslim community, Rev. Ogowole said, the Kwara state government offered church leaders 3 million naira (US$25,580) and ordered the congregation to relocate. Church leaders rejected the order, saying they had spent nearly seven times that much to construct the church building.

Muslims had objected to the church building soon after construction began in 2001 on property that the church had legally purchased. Rev. Ogowole told Compass that Muslims initially applied pressure on town planning authorities in 2005.

“This ultimately resulted in a relocation notice, asking us to relocate the church out of the area in seven days,” he said. “However, we objected to the relocation order. Our position was that relocating to another place would mean creating hardship for our members here, who would have to travel many kilometers in order to worship.”

The Rev. Cornelius Fawenu, secretary of the Kwara state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told reporters yesterday that a review of the inter-religious committee’s ruling is under discussion by panel members and leaders of CAN and the church.

“Both CAN and the church are currently dialoguing on the review of the final resolution with the committee on the matter, all in the interest of equity, justice and fairness, even though the committee had earlier resolved in favor of the church before the twist of events necessitated a second resolution, which we have since appealed against,” Rev. Fawenu said.

The building had been constructed with approval from the Kwara state government, which issued a right of occupancy certificate to the church. Compass obtained property documents from church leaders showing the legality of the building: the certificate of right of occupancy, an Environmental Impact Assessment report, town planning approval and certification and land rental fees that to date were all paid.

 

Second Attack

Sunday marked the second time that Muslim fanatics attacked the church. On June 16, they broke into the church sanctuary, destroying musical instruments, burning pews and pulling down part of a fence around the premises.

The fanatics also wrote Islamic inscriptions on the church gate. Rev. Ogowole told Compass church leaders reported the incident to the police.

“A bag containing Islamic items was recovered by the police the following morning in the church premises,” he said.

Originally the church was planted in 1993 in the Surulere area of Ilorin. It had 300 members, including three pastors and three evangelists, before its building in the Baboko area was destroyed. The construction of the church building began in 2001, with worship services beginning in 2004.

Rev. Fawenu of CAN confirmed the manner in which the church building was burned and said leaders of the association opposed the relocation order on the grounds that it “amounts to persecuting the members of that church.”

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Rev. Fawenu said he hopes the state government will intervene to prosecute the arsonists.

“If this matter is not addressed and the perpetrators of this sacrilegious act made to account for their sin and the concerned church adequately compensated, we will not be left with any other option than to believe that Kwara state is a state whereby everybody is at liberty to visit their fellow human beings with jungle justice,” he said.

Leaders of the Muslim community in Baboko declined to speak on the issue. A Kwara state spokesperson said officials would comment on the destruction of the church only after an investigation.  

Report from Compass Direct News