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Police slap and beat Pastor before congregation for over exuberant worship

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Parishioners at a church in Lahore were abruptly forced to stop their worship, when a Police officer shouted at them whilst yielding a gun and began to beat their Pastor before their eyes.

United Pentecostal Church located at Fazlia Colony were thirty minutes into their 11:30 service, when 4 emergency Police officers responding to a 15 (Pakistani 999) police emergency call, asked stewards to bring Pastor Riaz Rehmat to them.  Apparently a local Muslim man named Shabbir Shah had complained about the use of amplified music during the church service, that he alleged was causing a disturbance.  Fortunately the wife of Pastor Riaz was leading the service at the time and this allowed Pastor Riaz the freedom to meet with police officer, without causing too much disruption to the service.

Pastor Riaz explained to the officers that no amplification equipment had been in use during his service.  To placate them he suggested they speak with the regular police constable Muhammed Nawaz sent every Sunday to protect their church. PC Muhammed Nawaz immediately told the visiting officers that the situation was under control,that noise levels were fine and no crime had been committed. While the police officers were in discussion over the reasons for the emergency police call, one of the police officers PC Mir Ullah broke away from the conversation and started hollering at the church, calling for them to immediately cease the service or be arrested for breaking the law. As he shouted at the congregation he yielded a gun which he waved menacingly causing fear and panic.  

Pastor Riaz ran towards PC Mir Ullah to ask why he was resorting such violent actions when no-one was causing any crime, he asked the Police officer to leave the church building. Enraged at the polite request to leave PC MiR Ullah grabbed Pastor by the neck and dragged him outside the church.  Pastor Riaz was punched, kicked and slapped and told to stop church services as soon as any policeman in uniform arrives at his church. 

However, parishioners ran to all the local churches and hundreds of Christians came to the rescue of Pastor Riaz, within a couple of minutes. The Policemen left the scene of the attack and a demonstration by all the Christians of the area, saw the main road blocked for in excess of three hours.  The protesters ceased their blockade after a senior police officer advised that the officer involved in the violent conduct had been suspended and that a departmental enquiry had begun. 

Pastor Riaz spoke with the BPCA, he said:

"Shabbir Shah was educated in the local madrassers which promulgate the Deobandi Islamist school of thought.  He and other local Muslims hate the fact that our church is here, but his hatred is strongest as he lives opposite. Three years ago he caused a fracas outside our church accusing us of using our PA system to cause him grievance.  We called local Politicians and the police to mediate between us and have agreed a very restrictive covenant limiting hours during which we can use a PA in the church.  We have agreed to those terms and adhered to our commitment."

He added:

"Since then he has still called intermittently and suggested we are 'abusing his ears with unholy worship' inciting police against by saying we are using our PA system to cause nuisance alleging we are violating the Punjab Sound System (Regulation) Act, 2015".

Question are being asked about the police response and their lack of protocol.  The fact that an existing police officer was on duty did not deter the emergency police from disrupting the service, despite him being perfectly capable of advising the emergency team that no breach of peace or nuisance had occurred. Moreover, when PC Mir Ullah attacked Pastor Riaz the other officers just watched until hundreds of Christians poured in to defend the rights of the beleaguered pastor.  

It is highly unlikely that any disciplinary action will be taken against PC Mir Ullah as he is a Muslim attacking a Christian. Acts of violence are commonly condoned by Pakistan's police authorities - an impunity that has led to the deaths of four Christians in their custody since the inception of the BPCA.

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:

"This brutal treatment of a Pastor before his church despite no crime being committed was intended to create anxiety and distress amongst local parishioners.  The violence was unwarranted and for all intents and purposes illegal -but we expect little action to be taken against the police officers involved. Members of the congregation have been terrified by the attack but this Sunday they all returned to church, nullifying attempts to derail the church. Despite every attempt to negotiate with the local community involving local Police as mediators, hatred for Christians persists."

He added:

"Pakistani authorities need to do more to build bridges amongst communities. A national curriculum that fuels animosity through caricaturing, demonizing and even calling Christians 'spies of the west,' should be dropped in favour of one that promotes tolerance and dispels the myths."

Pastor Riaz has asked for help towards the cost of a CCTV installation that would deter similar activity in the future or provide evidence of such acts of violence.  The cost for supply and fit of a CCTV system would be around £600. Pastor Riaz believes a camera system would improve confidence within his congregation who have been left feeling extremely anxious. If you would like to contribute please click (here)


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