Pakistani Christians attacked over church construction, 1 left partially paralyzed
A Pakistani Christian man is partially paralyzed after a mob of Muslim men shot two Christians and attacked another with an ax for constructing a church in a village in Punjab province.
The Union of Catholic Asia News reports that 25-year-old Azeem Gulzar is now paralyzed from the right shoulder down after he was shot in the head on Feb. 2 in Punjab’s Sahiwal district.
Gulzar’s cousin was also shot while his uncle was attacked with an ax, according to Gulzar’s younger brother, Waseem. All three men were taken to a hospital but have since been released.
Gulzar, a tailor, had donated a 550-square-foot plot to be used as the site of a new church for the town’s 150 Christians. However, plans for the church drew the ire of area Muslims as the plot shares a wall with a property owned by a Muslim school teacher.
The attack came after months of disagreements between Gulzar’s family and the owner of the neighboring plot, Muhammad Liaqat. The attack also followed the Christian community’s winning of consent from a district coordinator for the church’s construction.
However, a Muslim villager has claimed that community members were successful in getting a court to issue an injunction against the church's construction.
Gulzar’s family built a wall and door on the construction site on Feb. 2. But later that night, about 15 Muslims descended on the property to tear down the wall. When Gulzar and his family tried to stop the destruction, they were attacked.
“It was Sunday. We spent the whole day building the wall and finished at 7 p.m.,” Waseem told UCANews.com. “We only wanted to secure our property against any forceful occupation. Three hours later, we heard a crowd chanting on our doorstep. As we tried to explain our stance, someone resorted to aerial firing. My brothers were the next targets.”
According to the U.K.-based Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, both the Muslim and Christian communities in the area have accused each other of launching the attack and two different police reports have been filed related to the altercation.
One Muslim villager told UCANews that some in the Christian community had “threatened to kill us” if they were stopped from constructing the church.
The Muslim villager, Muhammad Aslam, claimed that the shooting of the two men was done by their “partners” in order to file a “false” police case against the Muslims trying to stop the church's construction.
Waseem told UCANews that although his brother was released from the hospital on Monday, he is unable to communicate.
“One of my cousins is recovering from the wound of a bullet that slightly hit his skull,” Waseem said. “My uncle was also injured with an ax. We are not rich enough to pursue lengthy court cases. Our property is the only hope we had.”
Pakistan ranks as the fifth worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List.
Open Doors, which operates in over 60 countries, reports that there are dozens of attacks that occur each year against churches and cemeteries in Pakistan.
In November, 30 men raided St. Dominic Catholic Church in the Arifwala subdistrict of Punjab province. The church’s boundary wall and gate were destroyed and attackers took down the cross from a wall.
In 2018, the U.S. State Department designated Pakistan for the first time as a “country of particular concern” for tolerating and engaging in egregious violations of religious freedom.
Considering that blasphemy (insulting Islam or the Islamic prophet Muhammad) is a crime punishable by death or imprisonment, the law is often abused by Muslims to settle disputes with religious minorities. Horrific mob crimes have taken the lives of Christians accused of blasphemy, including the lynching of two Christians by a mob in 2014.
Many Christians and other religious minorities — such as peaceful Ammadiya Muslims — have fled persecution in Pakistan and are now living as refugees in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia.
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