Archon News

Pakistan: Arson Suspected in Church Fire

For information about the Orthodox Mission in Pakistan, see here.

For previous coverage of the persecution of Christians in Pakistan, see here.

“Arson Suspected in Church Fire in Pakistan,” Morning Star News, April 1, 2024:

LAHORE, Pakistan (Christian Daily International–Morning Star News) – Christians suspect a Muslim who vowed to keep them from celebrating Easter was behind a fire allegedly set to their church building on Saturday (March 30) in Rawalpindi District, Pakistan.

The Rev. Adeem Alphonse of the United Presbyterian Junior Church in Gujar Khan tehsil said the fire in the pre-dawn hours burned everything inside his church’s building.

“Our church was targeted around 3 a.m. on Saturday,” Pastor Alphonse said. “The huge fire burned everything inside the church, including holy books, the sound system, furniture and curtains, etc. We strongly suspect that it’s a case of arson, but the police and administration are trying to hush up the matter by terming it an outcome of a short-circuit in the electricity wiring.”

The congregation suspects a Muslim businessman, identified only as Sheikh Ahmed, who publicly threatened that he would not let them hold an Easter service, as he has been trying to force them to leave in order to add the property to an adjacent plaza he is developing, Pastor Alphonse said.

Ahmed disrupted the church’s Good Friday service when he tried to tear down tent coverings set up outside the building, the pastor said.

“When the police stopped Ahmed from causing unrest, he threatened our church elders that he will not let us have Easter service at any cost,” Pastor Alphonse told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “We resumed our Good Friday service thinking that the police would talk sense into him, but I was shocked when I received a telephone call the same night that my church was burning.”

Ahmed, who previously ran a construction supply company, has long had an eye on the property that the church leases from the government, he said.

“When I reached the church, firefighters were engaged in dousing the fire while a huge police contingent was also present there,” said the pastor, who lives in Rawalpindi, 55 kilometers (34 miles) from the church site.

A Muslim pharmacy owner who saw the flames had called the firefighters, he said. After they doused the fire, the pastor and some church elders noticed it had started from the wooden door of the main church hall.

“Everything inside was reduced to ashes,” Pastor Alphonse said. “When we checked the electricity wiring, we did not see any signs of a short-circuit.”

Church elder Javed Masih filed a police complaint naming Ahmed as a suspect, but officers failed to include Ahmed’s name in the First Information Report (FIR), which claimed the fire was caused by short-circuit, he said.

City Police Officer Rawalpindi Syed Khalid Mehmood Hamdani said in a press statement that the fire was caused by a short circuit. Investigations were continuing, and police will release a final report after a detailed forensic examination, he said.

Police attempts to favor Ahmed triggered a protest by Christians who demanded a transparent investigation.

Pastor Alphonse’s church has 265 members, most of them poor, he said….

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.

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