Pakistan Christian churches will not be demolished by railway project, authorities claim amid protests

Protesters from the Christian community clash with riot police in Lahore March 16, 2015. March 17, 2015 12:10pm EDT | Reuters

Christians in Lahore, Pakistan raised a protest against the destruction of four historically significant churches which will reportedly be demolished to give way for the construction of an underground railway project.

Taking to the streets, they demanded that the four churches – St. Andrew's Church, Cathedral Church, St. Paul's Presbyterian Church and Noulakha Church – remain untouched.

On May 3, they gathered in front of the Lahore High Court in an effort to stop the planned demolition.

Responding to the protest, the Lahore Development Authority said that the churches will not be destroyed. He clarified that although the railway development will indeed use some land from the said churches, the church buildings themselves will not be affected.

Part of the land belonging to church property will be used to construct stairs leading to the underground train stations, the spokesman said.

However, Christian groups did not appear to be pacified by the explanation. They said constructing stairs leading to the train stations "could create a law and order situation for Christian worshipers," especially with thousands of Muslim passengers expected to come from the trains during times of Christian prayer, Express reported.

Christian communities believe that the move is an attempt of the government to "grab the land" of the churches, which are all standing on prime property. Aside from being important places of worship, the four churches all have significant historical value because they had been built before the partition between India and Pakistan was established.

"These churches were built pre-Pakistan and these all churches are located at very expensive and prime locations which politicians and Islamists are jealous of," stated Nasir Saeed, director of the Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, according to Christian Today.

Pakistan Christians face intense persecution. Pakistan is labeled as a "country of particular concern" in the 2016 Annual Report of the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom because of "systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations."