Burning of Living Branch Church in Pakistan believed to be an arson attack to terrorise Christians.
Last year, 2014, was very difficult for the Christians in Pakistan ending on December 29 with the burning of independent church Living Branch in Mazharabad, Rawalpindi.
Mazharabad is small town where the majority of the population is Muslim, while 300 to 400 families are Christian. There are two independent Churches in this small town, Living Branch Church and Pur Fazal Kalisiyah (Blessed Community) Church. Both of them are surrounded by Christian residents. It is the constituency of Chaudhry Nisar the federal interior minister, who even didn’t bother to contact the local community leadership or visit the area are the attack.
According to local people, the media deliberately hasn’t published news about this incident, and even the police is not taking any interest and terming the fire an electrical failure.
During the fact find visit CLAAS team has a chance to meet and interview local congregates and the Church pastor Tariq Masih, who told the team that though Christians and Muslims living in this area peacefully but they believes that it was arsenal attack on the church as according to church elder Shah there were some marks of chemicals on the Church walls. Similarly Karamat Masih security in charged of the church since 2007 said that he never noticed any suspicious activities around the church. He further shared that after the each worship as usual he had put all the switches off in the church therefore there was not no chance for short circuit.
Local resident Mrs. Ghazala Saleem told CLAAS that it was about 2.30am when she heard some noise and saw that the church was burning. She shouted and informed people about the fire, and despite the emergency services being called, no one came to help. Then people took matters into their own hands and started throwing water on the building. About an hour later they were able to put out the fire, but the Church was completely destroyed.
According to church Elder Mubashir Zain Iqbal, in the five years he has worked at the church, there has been no such incident. But the expressed his suspicions that the attack had been intentional to harass the local Christians. He also complained that the local police is not cooperating with them.
Pastor Tariq Masih shared with CLAAS team that he established this church in 2006 independently. He purchased the land and built the church with a small contribution from local Christian community. He said that it is unexpected that the Church was burnt because according to him the local people, even the Muslims love to come to the church to attend meetings and healing prayers. But this incident has worried local Christians. The pastor added that the matter had been reported to police, but that it was not being taken seriously.
It is thought that it will cost an estimated Rs1,000,000 (one million) to rebuild the church. Mr. Joseph promised that CLAAS will help the church with 1 Lakh (one hundred thousand rupees) towards the rebuild.
Mr. Francis has talked to the officer in charge at the police station and asked him to register the case. The police officer assured Mr Francis that samples had been for forensic testing, and as soon as the results arrive, action will be taken. But unfortunately January is coming to an end, but there is still has still been no action.