Police claim amplified Easter Sunday service defamed Islam.
ISTANBUL, May 27 (Compass Direct News) – Nine pastors from two neighboring villages in Pakistan could face prison time for using loudspeakers to broadcast prayers and sermons from their churches on Easter Sunday.
Martinpur and Youngsnabad, 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of Lahore, are majority Christian villages. The nine pastors who lead congregations there say that local Muslim security forces have twisted the law to solicit a bribe.
Police arrested and detained Hafeez Gill, Fahim John, Maksud Ulkaq, and a catechist from the Catholic Church in Youngsnabad identified only as Saqab at 10 a.m. on May 16. While en route to the police station, the officers told them they would be released if they offered a bribe, according to the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS). The pastors refused and were detained, but following a public outcry from their parishioners they were released at 2:30 p.m.
Reports indicate the arrest was premeditated. A leader in the village council invited the pastors to his house for a meeting, but when they arrived in the morning local police were waiting for them.
They were taken to the police station, where Station House Officer Mirza Latif showed them two First Instance Reports (FIR) registered on May 11 claiming they had misused their speakers. The FIRs, however, state the pastors misused the speakers on Easter Sunday, which happened nearly a month earlier.
The FIRs accused the pastors of misusing their loudspeakers under Section 3/4 of the Amplifier Act. Their attorney said the reasons for their arrest were both religiously and financially motivated.
Police claimed that the church leaders had used their loudspeakers to amplify messages defaming Islam. The FIRs, however, make no mention of the content of their remarks.
“The police wanted to cause humiliation to the pastors and were also asking for money,” said CLAAS attorney Akhbar Durrani.
The case was registered by a special branch of local police forces charging the four Youngsnabad pastors. On the same day, they filed charges against the five pastors in Martinpur: Shahazad Kamarul-Zaman, Mumbarab Kuhram, Hanuk Daniel, Amar Sohail, and a fifth pastor unnamed in the police report.
Nasir Bahatti, president of the Youth Welfare Association in Youngsnabad, a Christian social organization, said the church had permission to amplify the service and that the arrests were religiously motivated.
“There is no reason to ban the loudspeaker,” he said. “They are banning our worship and prayer. But we have permission [to use them] on particular days such as Christmas and Easter.”
If the FIRs are not withdrawn, the pastors will go to court over the alleged loudspeaker violation. Police released them from jail on May 16 under the condition that they obtain bail at an upcoming hearing.
The church loudspeakers broadcasted the church prayers and sermon for villagers unable to attend the service, as is custom in some Christian villages. Pakistani law limits the use of loudspeakers in Christian worship services to a specific time allotment (and usually to villages and towns with a small Muslim population), but these restrictions were not enforced in the almost-entirely Christian villages of Youngsnabad and Martinpur.
Few such restrictions, however, are placed on Pakistani mosques. The five daily calls to prayer, Friday sermons, and Quran recitations on Islamic holidays are frequently amplified on loudspeakers. The double standard follows a traditional Islamic dictum in which church bells were not allowed to ring in areas under Islamic rule.
“The Muslims in this nation can worship according to their prayer method, so why can’t we if we are all given equal rights?” Bahatti said.
The standard of living is relatively high in these villages due to a well-educated population. There are longstanding missionary schools in the villages, and much of the population has lived abroad. English missionaries founded Youngsnabad and Martinpur 120 years ago during British colonial occupation.
Some rights groups worry that the harassment of Pakistani Christians in villages such as Martinpur and Youngsnabad could mean deteriorating conditions for religious minorities in areas once considered secure.
CLAAS reported that vandals completely ransacked a church in Bannu Cantt, in the North West Frontier Province, on May 12. They destroyed the altar, burned Bibles, and broke pews. Although the city is located in a province that borders Afghanistan, where Taliban rebels have been active, it was thought to be a relatively secure area, according to the report.
Pakistan remains in turmoil as the military moves into Swat Valley to uproot the Taliban, which has established Islamic law (sharia) in the embattled area. An estimated 2 million Pakistanis have become refugees by fleeing the area after a government evacuation order.
Report from Compass Direct News