Pakistani government closes down house churches in Bahawalpur

The interior of a church in Bahawalpur, Pakistan | Wikimedia Commons/Syed arslan media

Pakistani authorities have ordered the closure of house churches in the city of Bahawalpur in southern Punjab after Muslims complained that they were disturbed by the prayers of Christians.

The city administrators mandated that Christians can only offer Sunday prayers in proper church buildings and not in houses. According to the Pakistani Christian Post, there are only four church buildings in the city.

The government does not grant permission to construct new churches if it is within 200 meters from a mosque or 100 meters away from a Muslim residential area. Churches are also prohibited from using speakers during prayers and the services should not coincide with Muslim prayers in mosques.

Erecting crosses on the gates of new church buildings also requires special permission from the authorities.

House churches became common in the city after the year 2000 when Evangelicals began preaching in Pakistan. Christians held their meetings in the houses of pastors and other members because they were unable to build proper church buildings.

An unnamed source told Pakistani Christian Post that a member of a militant group in Bahawalpur has pressured the city administration to ban Christian prayers.

Dr. Nazir S. Bhatti, president of Pakistan Christian Congress, has raised the issue to the Chief Minister of Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Ch. Nisar Ali.

Bhatti told the ministers that the ban on prayer in house churches is against religious freedom and it violates the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Last month, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) ordered 11 Christian television channels to cease operations after it was found that they do not have the necessary permits to broadcast their material.

The order stated that "all the Regional Directors General are invited to take the necessary steps to immediately stop the illegal transmission of TV channels in their respective regions."

Fr. Robert McCulloch, an Australian priest living in Pakistan, has cautioned against describing the situation of Christians in the country as persecution.

"People have got to be careful in terms of what words they use in describing the situation there. Discrimination certainly, but persecution not," he told Catholic News Agency.

He noted that Christians are able to open seminaries and hospitals in Pakistan unlike in other countries such as North Korea, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.