A Pakistani church in New Sarabah Village, Toba Tek Singh Chak 336, has been forced to approach the Deputy Commissioner of Police for Toba Tek Singh for permission to use their church building. Their church was banned for any kind of church services two years ago after Christian music and prayers emanating from the building caused severe offence to local Muslims.
The church building for Full Gospel Assembly was bravely completed in 2012 despite several threats from local Muslim leaders. The building was paid for by contributions from the 200 impoverished but faithful parishioners – many of whom helped build the church for free in their spare time.
Sign our petition (here)
For four years the energetic and exuberant Christian community prayed and worshipped with great zeal as they strove to draw closer in relationship with their God. However, their passionate worship did not go unnoticed and soon influential Islamists in the community threatened the terrified members of the church and other Christians in surrounding areas, with threats of violence if the church building continued to be utilised for worship services. On several occasions church services were interrupted by local Muslim men who would chant ‘Allah Hu Akbar’ and threaten parishioners until local police were called to resolve the dispute. Parishioners would have stones hurled at them after services and would be spat at.
After a series disturbances and threats of extreme violence including assertions that any Christian stepping foot into the church building would be lynched, failed to terminate the use of the building by the church body, the Islamists plotted the demise of the church more assuredly. Several senior Muslim leaders approached police officers at the local Rajana Police Station and urged them to preserve Islamic pride by closing down the church building.
In usual fashion the local police constabulary took matters into their own hands without any legal mandate and demanded the attendance of the Full Gospel Assembly (FGA) church leadership at a ‘social harmony meeting’ at Ranjana Police station on Christmas Day 2016.
When the 12 Christian leaders arrived at the police station they were shocked to be met by over 50 Muslim clerics and leaders during a meeting in which they were ambushed into accepting closure of their church building.
Christian leaders were told that the use of the building to practice their faith would be deemed illegal and could lead to ‘severe fines and long-term imprisonment.’
Rafaqat Masih a local Christian Councillor elected for Toba Tek Singh village, spoke with the BPCA. He said:
‘’On 25th December 2016 police officers sent a notice and called our church pastor and other members of the church leadership to appear in the Police Station that evening.
“When we reached the police station we found many leaders from the Muslim community already present. They seemed aggressive and the mood in the room was extremely tense. The Station House officer (SHO) Abid Jutt of Rajana Police Station told us that the assembled Muslims had submitted a complaint against our Church services.
“We were advised that police had evidence in the form of Muslim witnesses that Christian people were drunk in church and were shouting and creating a lot of noise with instruments in the Church which was causing considerable disturbance.”
He further added:
“We were told that as these ‘honourable’ Muslims had submitted a complaint against our church services, he ordering the closure of the church building until a NOC (No objection Certificate) was received from the Deputy Commissioner of Toba Tek Singh Police Authority. The SHO handed a written order to ban all church services at our building and asked the church pastor and elders to sign it in agreement.”
Initially without any option open to them church leaders terminated services at the church building. However, to stop the melancholy that was absorbing parishioners and to create a safer and more conducive environment for group services than the use of homes, after two weeks church leaders approached the original complainants for amnesty.
Rafqat Masih, said:
“We pleaded with Muslim leaders to allow us our Church services and assured them that we would not create any disturbance in the community. By a miracle they accepted our terms and services resumed.
“We worshipped quietly without amplification and walked home quietly after our services not exhibiting any joy. It was hard for us and emotionally scarring but necessary.”
Sadly almost a year later on 14th December 2017 as Christians began preparing for Christmas church leaders were again called into Rajana Police station. This time new SHO Nasir Malik demanded to know by whose authority church services had resumed at the church building. Despite the private agreement with Muslims it seemed the annoyance of the Christian celebration of Christmas had reinvigorated their animosity and once again they had complained to police.
Though Pastor Samuel Taskeen explained we had permission from the initial complainants after our initial meeting, he simply ignored that and scolded church leaders and reaffirmed the ban.
Pastor Samuel Taskeen said,
“It is now over 6 months since any formal prayer has been offered or any sermon preached within the walls of our church. We were willing to stand up to the local Muslims and to be killed if necessary, but how can we fight against our police?
“The Police and other authorities have shown their lack of love for Christians; this is how it will always be for God’s people in Pakistan.”
“Our God tells us we have to obey the law of the land so we can’t practice our worship, in our own building, but we will strive to terminate this local ruling. Our Christ is great and he will make it possible.”
Pastor Samuel still retains the keys for the building, but he is forbidden from using the building as a Church. The local SHO has ruled they can’t use the building for prayer unless they have a notice of consent from the Deputy Commissioner of Police for Toba Tek Singh – which they seem disinclined to provide. This is counter to the provisions implemented through Pakistan’s constitution of which Article 20 stipulates:
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, practice 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.
A recent development which further threatens the local Christian community is now many local authorities across the country stop Christians from holding Church services in their homes, or to build a church within 100m of a mosque, due to the offence it causes local Muslims. In October 2017 the new laws resulted in the arrest of 8 pastors who were fined for running a house church and even temporarily jailed (click here). Many Municipal councils in Pakistan have shown considerable intolerance to Christians meeting for prayer and worship in their homes.
Rather strangely, though no law has been broken with the church building in Toba Tek Singh Chak 336. Local authorities and the police have colluded with the local Muslim community and have simply closed ranks on local Christians. They continue to exhibit completely unlawful discrimination.
BPCA Officer Zeshan Masih expressed his concerns:
“It is total extremism and an act of great religious discrimination when such a huge number of Christian people are prevented from holding a Church Service and threatened by both the local police and the local community.”
“The poor Christian Community is really shattered. They are extremely scared and depressed because of this assault on their religious freedom and they seek help from Government Authorities. The Government needs to intervene and to provide these Christians with protection and support, so that they might exercise their faith in New Sarabah.”
“Several requests have been made to the Assistant Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner and the District Police Office to take notice of this issue, but so far no response is forthcoming. By refusing to enforce the constitutional right to worship to these Christians, local police and statutory agencies have evidenced wholesale religious prejudice.”
Lead Officer Mehwish Bhatti further said:
“The parishioners of the church continue to be patient and wait for justice with peace. They hope very much for civil action to be taken by the authorities that will allow them to worship in their community and in the ‘legal’ church they built with their own resources.”
Pastor Samuel Taskeen from the settlement and Village Councillor Rafqat Masih also told the BPCA that the Christian community is being forced into signing an agreement with local police that restricts their constitutional rights to worship in order to avoid the consequences of the on-going threats.
Such agreements mean that this church will not open their Church building and will not hold any services at their homes. With draconian protocols becoming normative in Pakistan, there can be little support for Pakistan’s claims that Christians are given freedom of worship.
Contracts that exhort an apology and reduce the quality of life for Christians or their freedoms are often forced on Christian communities as a concession to their harassers. It is a means of underscoring their inferior rights and presents their very existence as diminutive to their Sunni Muslim neighbours. For example, the Christian community where Patras Masih a teenage blasphemy victim was arrested, they were made to engage in a contract apologizing for the alleged blasphemy and promise to reinforce their attempts to ‘never let it happen again’.
The Christians under duress signed the contract in an attempt to prevent their whole community from being burnt to the ground – previously thousands of Christians fled their homes for fear of a vengeful mob. (click here). The grounds for the blasphemy charges were spurious but that did not matter a jot to the Muslim leaders who seemed to revel in the subjugation of inferior beings.
Rafqat Masih provided an update:
“Over the past month due to our great efforts and by exerting pressure over the Local District Administration and Police, local Police have allowed us – at least verbally to conduct Church services in my home, but with limitations, as we cannot use instruments in worship or cannot ‘say loud prayers’.”
Rafqat Masih further said:
“Now we feel very insecure having Church services even at home because Muslims openly say that ‘we will not allow you to reopen the Church for any Church service to take place in this area’. This is an open threat from them, which can cause serious repercussions, including possible violence between the Muslim and Christian communities.
“We are deeply disappointed that the Local Police and Local Administration support, but not openly, the unlawful acts of the Muslim community of the area. We are facing discrimination from the Local Administration and Local Police and no one is ready to solve this matter. ”
Wilson Chowdhry said:
“Bizarrely local residents are claiming moral fear suggesting “their ladies and families are not secure” with a church in the area.
Upon further inquiry into the nature of this fear we found it is comparative to the way residents of a neighbourhood in a western country might react if a strip club or a brothel were being set up in their neighbourhood; and accordingly the police has backed these prejudiced opinions and have bullied the Christians by prohibiting the use of the church building supposedly “to avoid a clash”.
“Unfortunately the authorities in this case have not “avoided a clash” but have shown extreme cowardice and an inability to enact the constitutional rights that Christians are supposed to be able to engage in. This goes to further entrench in everyday life the pariah status of Christians.
“The police show when they support these bigoted and unsubstantiated opinions that they care nothing for the rule of law and it affirms a hatred and bitterness that is systemically cultivated towards Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan.
When High Commissioners around the globe minimalize their country’s draconian treatment of minorities by citing the constitution, we only need to look at these results, of indoctrinated contempt transmitted to society via the educational curriculum and evidence of abuse of authority by this cabal both in this incident and others like it.”
British Pakistani Christian Association has set up an appeal to help fund a legal challenge to the unlawful act of local police and other local statutory bodies. We hope to win this landmark case and help several other churches forced to sign unlawful church contracts with local police authorities. If you would like to donate towards this essential Kingdom work please donate by clicking (here).
Sign our petition (here)