Pakistan Church Targeted By 'Builder Mafia', Christians Beaten
Christians in Hyderabad, Pakistan, are appealing for protection against a "builder mafia" they say is attempting to seize control of a church situated on valuable building land.
The Church of St Saviour's is located in the Christian community of Sukkur and belongs to the Church of Pakistan, part of the Anglican Communion.
According to one resident, Munawar Gill, the church was first targeted on December 21 when police arrived at the building and asked for proof of ownership. Gill said that on New Year's Eve around 20 people, some in police uniforms, beat residents of the church compound with clubs. Among the 20 injured were women and children. Prof Suleman Sohail, who teaches physical education in Sukkur College, had his legs broken and his son was also injured.
Around 4,500 Christians demonstrated in front of the Sukkur Press Club following the attack. Bishop Kaleem John of the Diocese of Hyderabad told Pakistan Today the move against the church was an attempt to create instability and undermine religious minorities. He said the Church of Pakistan had obtained a court decision in its favour and that the "mafia" had no right to the property.
He appealed to Pakistan's political leaders to restrain the actions of the attackers.
Nasir Saeed, director of anti-persecution watchdog CLAAS-UK, said church properties were located at prime locations throughout Pakistan and that the "land mafia" wanted to seize them for redevelopment.
"The land mafia grabs or buys these properties very cheap from the pseudo owners and then develop them and sell them for the large profits," he said. "This is not the only church property but there are several church properties throughout Pakistan that have ownership disputes and cases are going on in courts for years."
He described Christians as "the most suffering community in Pakistan".
St Saviour's was targeted in 2006 and burned amid widespread unrest about cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed published in Western newspapers.