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Pakistan diocese chips in to help Christians facing eviction

Faisalabad diocese is looking to aid 75 families who face being thrown out of homes they have lived in for over 60 years
Bishop Indrias Rehmat of Faisalabad visits the affected Christian families on April 22.

Bishop Indrias Rehmat of Faisalabad visits the affected Christian families on April 22. (Photo: Supplied)

Published: April 25, 2024 08:26 AM GMT
Updated: April 25, 2024 10:30 AM GMT

A diocese in central Pakistan has started mobilizing funds for Christians who face eviction from properties after having stayed in them for more than 60 years.

Faisalabad diocese in central Punjab province formed a seven-member ecumenical panel on April 23 to raise funds and help 75 Christian families who were told by a court to vacate the properties in Akbarabad, a 23-hectare (57-acre) commercial area owned by the family of Raja Riaz, a former opposition leader in the National Assembly (lower house).

“Riaz’s father helped us by taking a nominal fee. The present generation is cruel. We don’t have money. We are waiting for a savior,” said Shahzad Masih, a father of four who lives in a cramped house with his five brothers in Akbarabad.

There are more than 50 Catholic families. Most of them eke out a living as sanitary workers.

“My grandfather was among those who made this barren land liveable. It is usual to claim government land by occupying it and then procuring the land title. All utility bills are registered in my father's name,” said 45-year-old Masih, a rickshaw driver.

Raja Fazal Abbas, Riaz's elder brother, said we will do “what our lawyers suggest.”

In 1960, Riaz’s father allowed poor Christians to settle in Akbarabad free of cost. However, a rift occurred in 1998 between Christian and Muslim families. Claiming that Akbarabad was a government property, Christians filed a fraud case against 15 members of the Riaz family.

In March 2020, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court directed Christians to vacate the premises.

The Christians have since made an arrangement with the Muslim family to buy the land. The family demanded 775,000 rupees (US$ 2,786) per 25 square meters to be paid in installments.

Father Khalid Rashid Asi, director of the Catholic Bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace in Faisalabad diocese, said the Christians have already paid 13 million rupees collectively.

 “The property value has soared and Christians are now asked to pay 1,500,000 rupees per 25 square meters within six months. We are requesting a lower rate and a longer time [to pay],” Asi, a member of the ecumenical panel, told UCA News.

On April 18, police sealed the houses of three families who were forced to erect tents in the street. Protesting the eviction, thousands of Christians blocked roads during an eight-hour protest.

“Local politicians are involved. It will be a disaster if Christians are evicted,” the priest said

Bishop Indrias Rehmat of Faisalabad led a visit to Akbarabad on April 22. 

“Efforts are being made to get justice for Christians,” the prelate said.

A delegation led by Christian senator Khalil Tahir Sindhu met with Riaz, who agreed to give a discount.

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