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Protestant pastor shot at in Pakistan’s Jaranwala

Pastor Eleazar Sidhu survived the assassination bid in the town where 21 churches and 400 houses were burnt on Aug. 16
Pastor Eleazar Sidhu recuperates at the Civil Hospital in Faisalabad in Punjab on Sept 4

Pastor Eleazar Sidhu recuperates at the Civil Hospital in Faisalabad in Punjab on Sept 4. (Photo: Lala Robin Daniel)

Published: September 04, 2023 12:05 PM GMT
Updated: September 05, 2023 03:29 AM GMT

A Protestant pastor has survived an assassination bid in Pakistan’s Punjab province where a Christian settlement and churches were set on fire about two weeks ago.

Pastor Eleazar Sidhu's right arm was wounded when he was shot 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. 

The 35-year-old pastor from the Myong-Sang (meditation) Nasreth Church was soon hospitalized in Faisalabad, an industrial hub in Punjab province. 

Police arrested none even a day after the incident.

Pastor Sidhu refused to speak to UCA News, citing ill health.

In the police complaint, filed on Sept. 4, he alleged that a “bearded person” attacked him while he was returning after Sunday prayers from a nearby village in the evening.

“He told me to recite the kalma [the Islamic proclamation of faith]. I had just started my kalma of Prophet Masih (Urdu name for Christ) when he suddenly shot me.” Urdu is the national language of Pakistan.

"My family, my community, my Church and my organization are in fear,” the pastor stated in the complaint.

“Many houses were burnt in Jaranwala subdivision a few days ago. We should be allowed to live in this country without fear and we should be helped,” he added.

The pastor was referring to the Aug. 16 arson by a mob in Jaranwala over alleged desecration of the Quran by two Christians. Two villages in Faisalabad were also targeted by the Muslim mob.

On Aug. 28, Pastor Sidhu, known by his nickname Vicky, filed a complaint after Islamic graffiti appeared on his church walls. It carried radical Islamist slogans by the Tehreek-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline Islamist political party, which has been named in six police complaints filed in the arson case in Jaranwala.

“Muhammad is the last prophet,” and “Vicky maloon (accursed)” stated the slogan. Police later erased it.

“After three days, I dropped my son at school. A few unknown bearded men told me that ‘Pastor Vicky, the way you deleted our written words from the church wall, we shall delete you from this world,’” the pastor recalled.

He started getting threat calls after police erased the slogan, Sidhu mentioned in his complaint.

Father Khalid Rashid Asi, convenor of the Christian Joint Action Committee for the Jaranwala Incident, formed by Bishop Indrias Rehmat of Faisalabad last month, condemned the assassination attempt on the pastor.

The situation in the country is getting worse. The tolerance and acceptance have vanished, he said. 

“The TLP is a threat to both the Church and the state. Even the police are afraid of them," he told UCA News on Sept. 4.

The priest said that the authorities have deployed unarmed police guards at churches, but "how they will defend us is beyond my understanding.”

Catholic activist Lala Robin Daniel, who attended the joint action committee meeting on Sept. 4, said in case of Pastor Sidhu, the police wanted to file the case against "unknown persons."

On Sept. 3, police put up banners at churches condemning the desecration of the Quran on behalf of the pastors and priests in Jaranwala.

“The situation is serious. The police are playing a dirty role and trying to hide their negligence. They didn’t need to paste those banners at the churches. What about the hundreds of Bibles burnt? They can’t stop anyone,” Daniel alleged.

Blasphemy is a contentious issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan. Anyone convicted of insulting Islam and its icons can be punished with a death sentence.

Christians make up 1.27 percent of Pakistan's 207.68 million population. Most of them reside in Punjab.

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