Hard-line cleric defies local officials’ order to stop construction.
SARGODHA, Pakistan, September 1 (CDN) — Muslims led by a hard-line cleric on Friday (Aug. 27) resumed building on a Christian cemetery in Mandi Bhawaldin, desecrating more graves in spite of a local government order to halt construction, according to the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA).
Radical Muslim cleric Mirza Abdul Ghani had built a mosque on the Christian graveyard off New Rasool Road in Mandi Bhawaldin after allegedly occupying the land 16 years ago, when area Christians were too intimidated to object, said Salamat Zia of APMA.
“No one could object to the construction of the mosque, as it is in the constitution of Pakistan that no religious worship place could be demolished,” said Zia. “Therefore all the Christians remained silent then.”
The cleric’s alleged desecration of more of the graveyard land around the Masjid Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat mosque began three months ago, Zia said.
“This Christian graveyard was earmarked before the Indo-Pakistan partition on Aug. 14, 1947,” Zia added, “and their forefathers were buried there.”
Zia, a local journalist and resident of the Muhalla Ghorra area in Mandi Bhawaldin, said it initially appeared that Ghani’s workers were building an addition to the mosque, as only pillars had been erected. Now Ghani’s builders have completed a basement as well as possibly some shops, with cement plaster now being applied to the new units.
On Aug. 6 Zia led a seven-member Christian delegation intending to meet with District Coordination Officer (DCO) Muhammad Amin Chaudhary, another district officer named Syed Shahbaz Hussain Naqvi and District Police Officer Dar Ali Khatak of Mandi Bhawaldin about the encroachments on the Christian graveyard and to discuss how the graves of their loved ones were being demolished and desecrated.
As DCO Chaudhary was on leave, Acting DCO Shahid Rana took their application and forwarded it to the District Officer of Revenue and Tehsil Officer of Regulations with directives to visit the site and demolish all encroachments except the Masjid Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat mosque, Zia said.
After inspecting the site, the administrative officers issued directives to stop the illegal encroachments, and for a few days the construction was halted, he said.
“But despite the stay orders of stopping construction, the Muslim men restarted construction over the Christian graves on Aug. 27,” Zia said.
Khalid Gill, chief organizer of APMA in Punjab Province, said that Muslim leaders threatened Christians who objected to the construction.
“They threatened that in case Christians protested against the resumption of construction they would also carry out a protest rally against Christians, and Muslim clerics said Christians would be responsible for the consequences,” Gill said.
APMA has demanded that the government allocate land for a Christian graveyard equivalent to the area allegedly occupied by the Muslims.
Local Urdu-language dailies in Mandi Bhawaldin have publicized the alleged encroachment on the Christian graveyard.
Report from Compass Direct News