Karachi church demolished in the name of anti-encroachment

Pakistan’s Christian community persecuted

As minorities in Pakistan continue to face unending violence, intolerance and discrimination with each passing day, more incidents of atrocities against them are being reported from across the country.

In a fresh incidence of systematic state persecution of minorities in Karachi the Metropolitan Corporation demolished a part of St. Joseph’s Church in Sadiqnagar as part of a campaign to demolish encroachments along the Gujjar Nullah.

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Karachi Bachao Tehreek (Save Karachi Movement), a group comprising lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists and minority activists said the anti-encroachment squad of the Sindh government tore down the building despite protests from the Christian community.

Abira Ashfaq, a member of Karachi Bachao Tehreek, said, “Govt of Sindh liable under section 295 — injuring or defiling places of worship thereby insulting the religion of any class where such destruction would be considered an insult — two years in jail plus fine maximum sentence. We need the names of all your foot soldiers.”

“We need to demolish their elite sense of worth. Their industries, their control of the state, their corruption and violence against the poor. We destroy them by shattering the fragile ugly veneer of the labels they wear, their Clifton and London homes, their massive vehicles.”

According to human rights organisations, as many as 1,000 non-Muslim girls, including Christians, are abducted each year. Many of them are forced to convert to Islam because it is widely believed in Pakistan that marriages under the age of 16 are acceptable under Sharia law if both individuals getting married are Muslim.

Mustafa Mehran, a lawyer, said two churches had already been demolished near Gujar Nullah and this last one was remaining for the huge Christian population. A day earlier, the group said it had managed to halt the demolition of the church.

“Thank you for participating in the campaign to #SaveStJosephChurch from demolition,” Karachi Bachao Tehreek said. “Due to our collective resistance, the church did not get demolished today. But residents fear that it will get demolished in the coming days as soon as it loses traction on social media.”

According to UN experts, the anti-encroachment action along the Gujjar Nullah will affect up to 12,000 homes housing 96,000 people. According to available data, more than 66,500 people have already been affected, with 4,900 houses demolished in Gujjar nullah and 1,700 in Orangi nullah.

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In June, UN human rights experts called on Pakistan to stop evicting close to 100,000 people living alongside the waterways.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in a statement said, the anti-encroachment drive by authorities was carried out “without adequate consultation with the affected residents, no relocation plan, and disparate and insufficient compensation for the displaced.”

The UN experts further said human rights laws do not prohibit resettling people who live along waterways if they are exposed to significant flood risk that cannot be mitigated otherwise. “However, any project to reduce risks of natural disasters requires due process and full compliance with international human rights norms governing relocation and resettlement, and guaranteeing that no one is rendered homeless,” they stressed.

Christians make up 1.27 percent of Pakistan’s population of 207.68 million. In 1998, the official estimate of the figure was 1.59 percent. In 1947, when modern Pakistan was formed, non-Muslims made up 23 percent with 27 million people.

Observers note that many members of the majority Muslim community describe Christians using derogatory terms such as ‘churha’ or ‘kafir’. A large proportion of the Christian community is from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, poorly educated, and takes up low-paid manual labour such as in brick kilns or the sanitation sector.

According to the latest figures (1987-2018) from the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a total of 229 Christians, have been accused under various provisions on offences related to religion since 1987, reported CPFA.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in 2020 designated Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern because of its “systematic enforcement” of blasphemy and other controversial laws against religious minorities.

According to human rights organisations, as many as 1,000 non-Muslim girls, including Christians, are abducted each year. Many of them are forced to convert to Islam because it is widely believed in Pakistan that marriages under the age of 16 are acceptable under Sharia law if both individuals getting married are Muslim.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recently published its 2021 Annual Report. In this report, USCIRF once again recommended Pakistan be designated a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ due to its worsening religious freedom conditions for Christians and other religious minorities.

“Religious freedom conditions in Pakistan continued to worsen. The government systematically enforced blasphemy laws and failed to protect religious minorities from abuses by non-state actors. There was a sharp rise in targeted killings, blasphemy cases, forced conversions, and hate speech targeting religious minorities,” USCIRF’s 2021 Annual Report stated.

Despite this and other severe violations of human rights against religious minorities, Pir Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, claimed that religious minorities enjoyed total freedom of religion in Pakistan.

International Christian Concern (ICC) documented at least 25 incidents of persecution against Pakistan’s Christian population between January 1 and March 31, 2021. The documented incidents included false blasphemy accusations, abductions, forced conversions, forced marriages, physical violence, religiously motivated murders, and instances of intimidation.

Maheen Mustafa
Maheen Mustafa is a freelance journalist

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