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Muslim villagers in Pakistan pressure Christians to sell church building

(Reuters/Naseer Ahmed)A policeman takes position after gunmen attacked the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, Pakistan December 17, 2017.

Christian residents of a Muslim-majority village in Pakistan are being pressured to sign an agreement to sell off a church building just months after they agreed to stop holding services.

According to World Watch Monitor, Christians in Nayya Sarabah, Toba Tek Singh district have stopped holding services at a church belonging to the Full Gospel Assemblies since before Christmas.

Rafaqat Masih, a union councilor for minorities, noted that Muslim villagers have initially filed a complaint against the church in December 2016, but a compromise had been reached, allowing the Christians to conduct services.

However, another complaint had been filed in December 2017, and Christians were summoned to the police station to sign an agreement.

The agreement reportedly instructs Christians to conduct religious services in their houses, instead of the church.

"There will be no programme in the church. If anyone will violate this agreement, then legal action will be taken. [Christians] will not gather in any house for a religious programme. If there will be any violation of this, legal action will be taken," the agreement stated, as reported by World Watch Monitor.

Muslim resident Hajji Muhammad Siddique insisted that a church cannot be allowed in the Muslim-majority village.

"Now we are working with the civil administration to give a piece of land to Christians outside the village," Siddique told World Watch Monitor.

"When it is done, we will make the Christians write an agreement that they will sell this current church building or at least dismantle the church structure and crosses," he added.

Masih noted that the land in question has already been designated for a school, and there has been no documentation to prove that the property will be transferred to the Christians.

He also lamented that it had taken several years to build the church in the village. "Now who is going to pay for building from scratch?" Masih asked.

Deputy Superintendent Muhammad Tahir stressed that it was not legal to force Christians to stop holding services. "We are trying to amicably resolve this matter," he said, according to World Watch Monitor.

Masih had also filed an application to the Toba Tek Singh Deputy Commissioner to include the church in the list of religious establishments that must be provided with police security.

Churches in Pakistan are provided with security every Sunday or upon request due to the rise of terrorism in the country. However, the Christians in the village were told that their church was not eligible for security because it was not included in the authorized list of churches.

World Watch Monitor noted that Christians have been visiting the civil administration to obtain a permit to hold services or to ask for an alternative venue for religious functions.

Pakistan has been ranked by the watchdog group Open Doors in the 2018 World Watch List as the fifth worst country in the world when it comes to persecution of Christians.

The organization noted that historic churches in the country are allowed to conduct religious activities, but they are heavily monitored and are often targeted in terrorist attacks.

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