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ICC Note: Christians in a village in Pakistan have been told they must demolish their community’s church because it is located in a Muslim-majority village. This order comes six months after the Christians were forced to sign an agreement in which they agreed to no longer hold services inside the church. Discrimination against Christians is widespread in Pakistan and often leads to instances of outright persecution.

06/05/2018 Pakistan (World Watch Monitor) – Christians in a village in Pakistan’s Punjab province have been told to remove every visible sign of Christianity from their church, six months after being forced to sign a form pledging they would no longer hold services.

The 40 Christian families in Nayya Sarabah (Chak 336) village, part of Toba Tek Singh district near Faisalabad, haven’t held a service since before Christmas.

Muslim resident Hajji Muhammad Siddique told World Watch Monitor that, as “Muslims are in the majority in the village, we can’t allow a church here”.

“Now we are working with the civil administration to give a piece of land to Christians outside the village,” said Siddique, 73, who runs a dispensary. “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.”

“Most of the Christians of the village work as brick-kiln laborers,” he added. “It is only Rafaqat Masih, who, being a retired army personnel, is trying to be a leader and has helped build a church in the village.”

The church is run by Pastor Samuel Masih, but it is Rafaqat Masih, a union councilor for minorities, who has been at the forefront of efforts to resolve the matter.

Most of the Christians are poor labourers. The church belongs to Full Gospel Assemblies, an evangelical group working in Pakistan, and was built on land belonging to 70-year-old Christian named Rafiq Masih.

“Rafiq is childless, so he bequeathed this property for the construction of a church building,” Rafaqat Masih told World Watch Monitor. “The construction began in 2012 and we had been holding worship services since then. But in December 2016 the local Muslims objected over it and filed an application against us in the local police station. At that time, a compromise was reached and we again started holding services. But, again, in December 2017, they submitted an application in the police station, after which we were called in and were told to sign an agreement.”

The police station in the nearby town of Rajana brought together Muslims and Christians of the village on 14 December 2017, and had them sign an agreement according to which the Christians would “hold religious ceremonies in their houses. There will be no program 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 program. If there will be any violation of this, legal action will be taken”.

That same month, the Muslims submitted an application to close down the church, and the local police and civil administration told the Christians that, as their church was not included on the official list of churches that must be provided with security on Sundays, they could no longer hold services.

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