Civil society activists and members of the Christian community hold placards as they take part in a protest to condemn the attacks on churches in Pakistan, in Karachi on Aug. 18. (Photo by Asif HASSAN / AFP)
The Presbyterian Church in Pakistan has terminated a pastor, who shot at his hand to fake an assassination attempt on him over blasphemy allegations in Punjab province.
Pastor Eleazar Sidhu was suspended on Sept. 13 after he “voluntarily confessed" to "colleagues and friends" that the injury was self-inflicted, said Reverend Pastor Altaf Khan, on behalf of the board of the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan.
Khan’s Sept. 13 statement said Sidhu shot and wounded his right hand on Sept. 3 at a village in Rehmat Town of Jaranwala, where Muslim mobs attacked 21 churches and 400 Christian houses on Aug. 16 over blasphemy allegations.
Sidhu also “admitted to planning this whole act without any fear, duress or pressure,” the statement added.
The Church did not want to make “any conclusions since the matter is sub-judice,” the statement said. But it was ending the employment contract and “any professional ties” with Sidhu “until the matter comes to its logical conclusion,” the statement said.
On Sept. 4 Sidhu complained to police that he was shot by a “bearded person” while returning after Sunday prayers from a nearby village in the evening.
He also called for help citing the Aug. 16 arson by a mob in Jaranwala over the alleged desecration of the Quran by two Christians. That violence also targeted two villages in Faisalabad district.
Almost two weeks after the Jaranwala incident, on Aug. 28, Sidhu filed a police complaint saying that Islamic graffiti appeared on his church walls.
The graffiti carried radical Islamist slogans by the Tehreek-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline Islamist political party, which has been named in six police complaints linked to Jaranwala violence.
In a video released earlier this week on social media, Sidhu was seen making a confession in front of a police officer.
“I did it because of stress. I wanted police protection. I threw the pistol in a canal,” he stated.
“Mr. Pastor you are a brother. We came when you complained. The doctor has stated that you harmed yourself,” the official said in reply.
However, Junaid Ajmal, the investigation officer, rejected the video.
“It’s all hearsay. We shall reveal the details in a media conference in one or two days,” he told UCA News.
In Pakistan, blasphemy is a serious criminal offense warranting life and death sentences. Both Muslims and minority groups such as Christians have been targeted by hardline Muslims for alleged blasphemous acts.
However, hardliners have accused Christians of exploiting blasphemy cases to find asylum abroad.
Christian leaders say that hundreds of Pakistan Christians are currently in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia, seeking relocation to Western countries due to “threats, persecution and lack of security.”
Abdul Basit Alvi, spokesperson for TLP in Sargodha town accused Christians of misusing blasphemy laws to get foreign visas.
“We have been saying this from the beginning. Obviously, the blame is put on TLP. There is no other issue than getting a foreign visa,” Alvi said.
He said the trend increased since Asia Bibi escaped death sentence and “went abroad. Other seems to have found a way,” he added.
Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic woman, was convicted to death for alleged blasphemy. However, in 2018, the Supreme Court acquitted her. She moved to Canada the next year.
Christian leaders say the act by Pastor Sidhu emboldens extremist groups' narrative of Christians missing the law to seek asylum abroad.
“The latest development strengthens the TLP narrative. The state also says the same,” Catholic activist Lala Robin Daniel told UCA News.
“We have been saying for decades that blasphemy laws are being misused. Sadly, Christians seem to be doing the same. However, many things are under carpet and cannot be discussed,” he told UCA News.