LAHORE, Pakistan — A pastor was shot and wounded by hardline Muslims on Sunday evening in Jaranwala, Pakistan, a week after Islamist slogans were written on the walls of his church building, sources said.
The Rev. Eleazar Sidhu, pastor of a Presbyterian church in Kukranwala village in the Khanuwana area of Jaranwala tehsil, Faisalabad District, said the assailants ordered him to recite the Islamic creed before shooting him. He was returning home to Rehmat Town with an assistant after pastoral visits to church members when two bearded men stopped his motorcycle near the Khanuwana bus stop, he said.
“One of the attackers pulled out a pistol and asked me to recite the Islamic Kalima, [profession of faith],” Pastor Sidhu stated in the First Information Report (FIR) filed at the Saddar Police Station in Jaranwala. “When I refused and instead started to recite the Apostles’ Creed, the man opened fire, resulting in a bullet wound on the upper half of my chest [on shoulder]. The assailants fled after the attack.”
Unknown persons on Aug. 28 had vandalized the walls of his church with Islamist slogans that, translated into English, read, “Muhammad is Allah’s last prophet,” “Here I am at your service, O Messenger of Allah,” and “Vicky is accursed,” referring to the 34-year-old pastor’s nickname, he said.
“I was conducting early morning prayers in the church when a female member informed me that someone had smeared the church walls with Islamic slogans,” Pastor Sidhu said. “We immediately called the police, who got the walls whitewashed in their [officers’] presence. I also registered a case against the unknown vandals.”
Pastor Sidhu said he had received threats after police helped him remove the graffiti.
“Three days later when I was returning home after picking up my son from school, we were stopped by some unidentified bearded men,” he said. “They threatened me, saying that I will be ‘deleted from the world’ in the same manner in which I had removed the graffiti from the church walls.”
He said the man who opened fire on him on Sunday was among those who had threatened him.
The pastor said that four Presbyterian churches were among the 21 church buildings that were attacked by Muslim mobs in Jaranwala on Aug. 16, after two Christian brothers were accused of desecrating the Koran.
“My congregation was already fearful after the attacks in various colonies in Jaranwala, but they panicked when our church walls were vandalized on Aug. 28,” he said. “However, the timely intervention of the police and deployment of personnel had instilled some sense of security in the village.”
Minorities Alliance Pakistan Chairman Advocate Akmal Bhatti condemned the attack on Pastor Sidhu, saying it had increased fear among Christians in Faisalabad District.
“We thank God for saving the pastor’s life,” Bhatti told Morning Star News. “The doctors have removed the bullet after a successful operation on Sunday night. Eleazar is out of danger now, although he had lost a lot of blood.”
The atmosphere in the Kukranwala Christian settlement was already tense after the vandalism on the church walls, he said.
“Kukranwala is a relatively new Christian settlement comprising 200-250 families,” Bhatti said. “The police have deployed some personnel there for security, but we demand stern action against the perpetrators behind these incidents.”
Court issues notice
Lahore High Court Justice Asim Hafeez on Monday ordered the Punjab Province government to respond to a petition seeking the formation of a judicial commission to investigate the Jarawanla riots.
Bishop Azad Marshall, president of the Church of Pakistan, filed the petition seeking the judicial inquiry into the mob violence against Christians in Jaranwala on Aug 16.
“The court has ordered the Punjab government to submit its response on Sept. 11,” Marshall said. “We hope that the high court will consider our concerns regarding the investigation and will form a judicial commission to conduct a thorough and transparent probe.”
He said Punjab police chief claims of a “foreign conspiracy” behind the riots and the alleged blasphemy that incited them raised concerns in the Christian community about the transparency of investigations, thus compelling the call for judicial oversight to reveal the facts.
“The judicial inquiry should also ascertain the causes of such mob attacks, fix responsibility on the officials concerned and propose measures to curb these incidents,” Marshall said.
Muslim mobs incited by the hardline Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) attacked churches and homes of Christian residents in Jaranwala on Aug. 16. Multiple churches were set on fire and homes and businesses of Christians were ransacked for hours while police were silent spectators, triggering condemnation across the world.
Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from eighth the previous year.
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