Mob attacks Pakistani Christians for helping build church wall

(Reuters/Fayaz Aziz)Pakistan's Christian community protest against satirical French weekly Charlie Hebdo, which featured a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad as the cover of its first edition since an attack by Islamist gunmen, in Peshawar January 18, 2015.

A Christian family in northeast Pakistan was attacked by a group of armed men last Sunday while they were helping to build a boundary wall around their church.

According to World Watch Monitor, the five members of the Christian family were injured after they were attacked by around 20 armed men as they build the wall around the Pakistan Gospel Assemblies church in Yousufwala village, on the outskirts of the Punjabi city of Sahiwal.

"Our church elder, George Masih, who is 70, was overseeing masons and labourers who were constructing the wall. We were praying [inside the church] when we heard shouting and yelling, and, when we rushed outside, we saw about 20 men, armed with clubs and axes, [who] were beating Masih and others," said the church's pastor, who cannot be named for security reasons.

The pastor said that he believes that the assailants were linked to a local landlord. He went on to note that the land was originally designated for communal purposes, but he said that they later obtained permission to build the church on the land. He said that the church has a copy of the legal agreement, which he said included church-related infrastructure such as a boundary wall.

Among those injured in the attack was George Masih's son, Babar, who said that his father had struggled for years to obtain the land where the church is currently situated.

"The attackers told us to stop building the wall as the land belonged to them. But we told them that this belongs to the church. At this they descended into fighting with us. Then our women tried to intervene but they too were beaten and their clothes were torn," he narrated.

Sami Minhas, chairman of the Muthida (United) Christian Movement in Sahiwal, said that the police are treating the attack as a land dispute between two parties even though the incident took place during a worship service.

He claimed that members of the local police force have told him that the Christians should not file a case against the assailants because it could create further tensions between local Muslims and Christians.

According to the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), the mud church has been present on the property for over 20 years, but the building was built in brick three years ago. The partial installation of a boundary wall last week had reportedly triggered local animosity.

The Station House Officer (SHO) Muhammad Asif and District Police Officer (DPO) Atif Akram have launched an investigation and have managed to find and arrest the perpetrators of the attack, but seven of the assailants are yet to be arrested.

On March 5, George Masih had presented his landownership papers during a meeting of community elders and the police had confirmed that the land belonged to him and that the church was permitted to use the land.

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