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Catholic church saved from demolition in Pakistan

St. Joseph Church in Karachi was set to be removed in an anti-encroachment drive dubbed illegal by activists

Catholic church saved from demolition in Pakistan

St. Joseph Catholic Church was spared from being demolished in an anti-encroachment drive described as illegal by activists in Pakistan's Karachi city on Aug. 23. (Photo supplied)

Published: August 24, 2021 05:18 AM GMT

Updated: August 25, 2021 08:04 AM GMT

The planned demolition of a Catholic church was put on hold owing to protests by a civil society group in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi.

“Thank you for participating in the campaign to #SaveStJosephChurch from demolition,” Karachi Bachao Tehreek (Save Karachi Movement) said in a statement on Aug. 23. “Due to our collective resistance, the church did not get demolished today. But residents fear that it will get demolished in the coming days as soon as it loses traction on social media.”

St. Joseph Catholic Church was set to be removed as part of the government’s anti-encroachment drive, which the movement described as illegal for violating a Supreme Court ruling and the country’s constitution as well as international accords.

Local officials claimed the drive was launched after a court order to remove encroachments in two narrow streams passing through Karachi city, locally known as the Gujjar nullah and the Orangi nullah, in the wake of the 2019 flash floods.

However, a civil society movement comprising lawyers, human rights defenders and minority activists pointed out that the court had ordered resettlement of the affected people before removing their houses.

“These actions were undertaken by city authorities without adequate consultation with the affected residents, no relocation plan and disparate and insufficient compensation for the displaced,” they said while asking citizens to continue raising their voices against the unlawful evictions and demolitions.

The legal basis for this mass displacement and the remedies available to those who are affected are unclear

The action may affect up to 12,000 homes housing 96,000 people, according to UN experts. According to available data, more than 66,500 people have already been affected, with 4,900 houses demolished in Gujjar nullah and 1,700 in Orangi nullah.

Many of the affected house owners had established tenures and have petitioned the apex court to review its June 14 verdict with regard to the demolition of their houses.

Civil society groups said the law does not prohibit resettling people who live along waterways if they are exposed to significant flood risk. But they are worried that intimidation and unlawful means are being employed against residents and those protesting the demolitions. “This raises additional concerns about access to justice and remedies for the concerned victims,” they said.

UN human rights experts urged Pakistan, a member of the Human Rights Council, to ensure that its policies and practices are in full compliance with international rights standards governing relocations, evictions and internal displacement.

“The legal basis for this mass displacement and the remedies available to those who are affected are unclear. What is clear is the horrid effect on the displaced population, putting many poor families out on the street in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Karachi Bachao Tehreek said.

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