CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 8 September 2018

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Churches in Pakistan reopened after outcry

ISLAMABAD (UCAN): Six Christian churches in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province have been allowed to reopen some two weeks after their forced closure over alleged security threats, minority representatives said.
 
The house churches are located in the city of Abbottabad, where Al Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden, was found and killed in a raid by United States (US) Navy SEAL commandos in 2011.
 
Minority leaders and rights advocates were angered by the surprise ban and called the move discriminatory. It came into effect shortly after the US State Department placed Pakistan on a special watch list  on 22 December 2017  for “severe violations of religious freedom.” 
 
The ban was overturned by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa speaker, Asad Qaiser, when the matter was taken up by opposition lawmakers in the provincial assembly.   
 
“All Churches have got verbal permission to reopen and worship according to their religious faith and beliefs. We are expecting to get a written order soon,” one Protestant pastor, Christopher Shakar said in a statement.
 
“We are grateful to everyone for being with us when we were facing difficulties to worship our Lord. God has proven once again he is always with us,” he said.
 
According to the pastor, Sunday services were also held at the churches.
 
Basharat Khokhar, a minority rights advocate, condemned the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government for its prejudicial behaviour toward religious minorities.
 
“On one hand, the government wants to pay billions of rupees to Muslim clerics, while on the other hand it is shutting down Christian worship places,” Khokhar said.
 
On January 18, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s chief minister, Pervez Khattak, approved a plan to provide a monthly stipend of 10,000 rupees ($705) to thousands of Muslim prayer leaders in a scheme that will cost three billion rupees ($211.6 million).
 
Father Arshad Nayer, a Catholic priest, said the government “would give a bad message to minorities” if it did not withdraw its decision to close the churches.
 
“Instead of providing security for the said churches, the administration has found it convenient to shut them down,” he said.
 
A minority rights advocate who requested anonymity, said there are mosques on almost every street of the country.  
 
“Can the federal or provincial governments dare to close a single mosque on the pretext of registration or security threats?” he asked, adding that there are double standards when it comes to application of law in the Muslim-majority country. 

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