A church in Pakistan was attacked last Saturday by a group of radical Muslim men in an apparent land-grabbing attempt as systematic persecution against Christians in Pakistan continues.
Pastor Samuel Barkat, who heads the Trinity Pentecostal Church in Pakistan’s Shekhupura district of Punjab province, told nongovernmental organization International Christian Concern that the church’s wall and main gate were damaged.
“Following the COVID-19 lockdown, the church has been closed down and the worshipers are not visiting,” Barkat told the United States-based organization. “Therefore, a group of land grabbers wanted to utilize this opportunity for their motives.”
According to Barkat, the church serves about 350 Christian families in Hakeempura. The pastor said a local Muslim neighbor lead the group of attackers.
The man, the pastor says, owns the land on a property adjacent from the church and has tried many times to steal the church property.
The pastor told the United Kingdom-based Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement that the attackers demanded that he and others in the building vacate the land and claimed that the land belonged to them.
According to the pastor, the men then began to demolish the church boundary wall and the church graveyard. After forcing their way into the church, the men desecrated a cross and other holy ornaments.
“It is sad that attacks on churches continue even during the COVID-19 pandemic, because hatred against Christians continues to rise and the government has no plans at all to protect the religious minorities and their places of worship,” CLAAS-UK Director Nasir Saeed said in a statement.
According to CLAAS-UK, a report has been filed with the police against the attackers. However, Barkat said that the attackers are threatening to attack again.
According to ICC, the church sits on nearly 3,000 square feet of land and is often used for Christian social gatherings.
Pakistan is recognized by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for tolerating or engaging in “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
The country ranks fifth on Open Doors USA's 2020 World Watch List of countries where Christians are most persecuted. In the Punjab province, countless Christians have been persecuted for their faith in Christ as societal persecution runs rampant.
In Pakistan, dozens of religious minorities have been imprisoned after being accused of blasphemy, a crime punishable by death under Pakistan law.
According to Open Doors, all Christians in Pakistan suffer from institutionalized discrimination and harassment.
In February, a Pakistani Christian man was left partially paralyzed after a group of suspected Muslim men shot two Christians and attacked another with an ax while they were constructing a church in the Sahiwal district of Punjab.
In recent weeks, a video showing from September 2012 showing a mob burning and destroying a Christian church and school in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa area in protest of a film has resurfaced on social media.
According to CLAAS-UK, Christians in Pakistan are still being targeted and discriminated against despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“People from religious minorities are still a target of the religious extremists and facing the same level of religious persecution, which is condemnable,” Saeed said.
“We have received information from our partners in Pakistan and through the media that at several places Christians and people from other religious minorities are denied aid or pushed back to the end of the queue because of their religion. Such hateful and discriminatory incidents are shameful, and the Pakistani government must take notice of such incidents.”