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Punjab government orders demolition of Christian High School in Lahore, Pakistan

12/25/07 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – The government of Punjab ordered the demolition of the historic Saint Francis High School situated near Anarkali market in Lahore on December 10, 2007. The school property belonged to the church administration of the Sacred Virgin Mary’s Church before it was nationalized by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, in the 1970s.

Pervaiz Musharaf’s government announced that they would denationalize the educational institutions but St. Francis High School was the only school that was not returned to its previous owner (Catholic Church) despite the fact that the church applied for its custody and fulfilled all of the Punjab government’s criteria.

Father Tariq Issaq, the guardian of the church, told the media that the Punjab Education Department had made the move to demolish the school because it was being supervised by a Christian minister. Father Issaq said that the Education Department and a few businessmen of Anarkali Market were conspiring to demolish the school for a long time. The priest said that “some greedy businessmen” had been eyeing the school’s property for a long time because it was located adjacent to the Anarkali Market and the area is highly attractive from a business point of view.

Issaq commented that the local Muslim politicians were very active on behalf of traders as some of them were a part of the market union. He said that the government kept the demolition contract a secret and that the church leaders only learned about it when a small number of unidentified people entered the church premises by force and began to demolish the school building.

Muslims only partially destroyed the name of the school written on the cement wall and etched with a Cross before the church administration and local Christian residents stopped the Muslims by calling the police. However, the workers did still manage to desecrate and demolish the cross. The Deputy Superintendent of Police and the Station House Officer had asked the church administration for negotiations with other “stake holders.” The officer, however, was reluctant to release the names and told the church guardians that they would come to know the other stakeholders at the police station.

Naseem Shahbaz Sahotra, the church’s legal adviser, confirmed that the church administration had applied for the custody of their schools but that the Punjab Education Department was hesitant to abide by the federal government’s orders. He informed the media that the church had fulfilled the government’s criteria and even submitted six-month advance salary of school staff, as per the government’s policy. He said that the government had returned other church-run educational institutions to their original owners, but that Saint Francis High School was the only institute whose return was deliberately being delayed due to the influence of the businessmen who wanted to occupy the church property.