Islamists threaten to stir up religious tensions in property dispute.By Our Pakistan Correspondent
LAHORE, Pakistan, October 22, 2016 (Morning Star News) – Defying a court order, police in Punjab Province forcibly evicted a pastor and his family from their home this week after Muslims attacked in a bid to seize the property, sources said.
Pastor Michael Robert of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Farooqabad, Sheikhupura District, about 55 kilometers (34 miles) from Lahore, was at home with his family in the Mohalla Sadiqabad area on Wednesday night (Oct. 19) when more than 50 armed men led by local Muslim Hameed Gaadi stormed their house and beat them, an attorney for advocacy group The Voice Society told Morning Star News.
“The attack left Pastor Robert, his father Robert Masih and his wife seriously injured,” Aneeqa Maria said. “The assailants arrived in the dark of night and started firing in the air with their weapons to terrorize the locals. They then forced open Pastor Robert’s gate and attacked the family, thrashing them violently as they threw households items out in the open.”
Maria said the assailants sought to seize the property, which is already the subject of a legal dispute. Christians in 96-percent Muslim Pakistan are commonly deprived of rights by Muslims who believe they can act against the minority community with impunity.
“Gaadi and his men could have killed someone that night, but fortunately a local informed the police on the emergency helpline, and a police contingent arrived on the scene” Maria said. “All the injured were taken to the hospital under police security for treatment and medico-legal formalities, but it later turned out that the police had manipulated the medical reports by understating the injuries.”
Maria said Pastor Robert’s father had bought the house from a local Muslim some years ago, but that two years ago the family learned that the previous owner had fraudulently transferred the same property to Gaadi’s name, Maria said. The family filed suit in court for fraud, and a judge issued a restraining order barring anyone from forcibly evicting the family until ownership was settled.
Disregarding the court’s order, local police led by Inspector Syed Wajihul Hassan began harassing the pastor and his family at the behest of an Islamist group, Maria said.
“Hassan threatened the Christians with ‘grave consequences’ if they did not vacate the property,” she said. “We moved the sessions court against the police harassment, and even though the judge gave stern orders to the police from misusing their power, the law enforcers continued to threaten and harass the pastor.”
The lawyer said that 10 days ago, Inspector Hassan again arrived at Pastor Robert’s house and demanded the family surrender it to Gaadi.
“When Pastor Robert refused, Hassan cursed and abused him and warned that he and his family would suffer for not giving in to his demands,” she said. “The police official then left, vowing to teach the family a lesson.”
When Gaadi and his men arrived on Wednesday night (Oct. 19) in several vehicles and unleashed havoc on the family, police were soon informed but took enough time reaching the scene that the assailants were able to damage and remove the family belongings, Maria said.
“Rather than making efforts to arrest the accused persons, the police put a lock on the gate and announced that it was seizing the property because it was disputed,” she said. “This is a clear violation of the court’s restraining order and a grave injustice for the pastor and his family, who have been forced out of their own home by the police at the behest of gangsters.”
The lawyer expressed concern that some Islamist groups were trying to fan religious tensions in the area.
“During a meeting at the police station on Friday afternoon [Oct. 21], a member of the hard-line Ahle Sunnah Wal Jamaat warned that they would take out protest rallies and would make every bid to stop the Christian family from re-entering their home because it was ‘a Muslim’s property,’” she said.
Although a senior police official rebuffed the cleric’s attempt to stir religious tensions, Maria said Pastor Robert and his family could remain vulnerable to more attacks.
Only after a large number of Christians protested against the attack, she said, did police register a case under terrorism and other relevant statutes against the assailants.
“Our first priority is to retake possession of the pastor’s house,” she said.
Inspector Hassan denied that he had threatened the pastor and his family by telling them to vacate the house.
“I have never asked Pastor Robert to vacate his house,” he said. “We know that the court has issued a restraining order, so how can the police intervene in a sub-judice case?” he asked.
Hassan was unable to say, however, why the pastor had to resort to the courts for protection from police.
Pastor Robert was unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts.
Christian rights activist Napolean Qayyum said it was unfortunate that police were acting at the behest of criminals.
“From what it seems, by locking the gate with all belongings outside the house, the police tried to hand over possession of the property to the other party,” Qayyum told Morning Star News. “The police are acting out of their legal jurisdiction, and such an attitude will only cause anguish in the minority community.”
He added that the pastor and his family should immediately receive back their house in accordance with the court’s order.