PAKISTAN: Pastor shot and wounded in Jaranwala

Rev Eleazar Sidhu (Hospital)On Sunday 3 September Rev Eleazar Sidhu, a Presbyterian pastor, was shot and wounded by Muslim extremists in Jaranwala one week after Islamist slogans were written on the walls of his church building.

UPDATE (21 SEPTEMBER 2023): The Presbyterian Church in Pakistan has sacked Rev Sidhu 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.

Rev Sidhu stated “I did it because of stress. I wanted police protection. I threw the pistol in a canal”.

When Pastor Sidhu was returning home by motorbike from pastoral visits on the Sunday evening, he was stopped by two bearded men near a bus stop. Pastor Sidhu described the attack in the First Information Report (FIR) he filed at Saddar Police Station: “One of the attackers pulled out a pistol and asked me to recite the Islamic Kalima, [profession of faith]. When I refused and instead started to recite the Apostles’ Creed, the man opened fire, resulting in a bullet wound on the upper half of my chest [on shoulder]. The assailants fled after the attack.”

 Six days earlier (28 August), unknown people wrote Islamist slogans on the walls of the Presbyterian church in Kukranwala village in Jaranwala in Faisalabad District. The slogans read “Muhammad is Allah’s last prophet,” “Here I am at your service, O Messenger of Allah,” and “Vicky is accursed,” referring to the pastor’s nickname.

Jaranwala was the site of a mob attack against Christians on 16 August and four Presbyterian churches were among the 21 church buildings that were damaged or destroyed in the attack, after two Christian brothers were accused of desecrating the Quran.

When he discovered the slogans Pastor Sidhu immediately called the police who arranged to have the church walls repainted in their presence. However, he received threats after the slogans were removed and three days later when he was returning from a school run, he was stopped by a group of men. They threatened him with the words he would be “deleted from the world” in the same way as he had removed the slogans from the church walls. According to Pastor Sidhu it was a man from this group that opened fire on him on Sunday.

Minorities Alliance Pakistan Chairman Akmal Bhatti said: “We thank God for saving the pastor’s life. The doctors have removed the bullet after a successful operation on Sunday night. Eleazar is out of danger now, although he had lost a lot of blood.” He also stated that the attack on the pastor had increased fear among Christians in the district. Tensions have been high in the area since the mob attack in mid-August.

Police chief claims attacks were Indian conspiracy

Church leaders in Pakistan are demanding an investigation into the anti-Christian rioting in Jaranwala, illegal arrests of local Christians and a police claim of a “foreign conspiracy”.

Inspector General Usman AnwarIn a bizarre press conference, Punjab Police Inspector General Usman Anwar (pictured) said that the riots in Jaranwala were evidence of a conspiracy by Indian officials to detract from their own country’s mistreatment of Christians. He was pictured at the press conference holding a news report about the mistreatment of Christian women in the Indian state of Manipur. He stated: “We have busted the anti-Pakistan network. It transpired during the investigation that the two accused arrested in Sargodha had links to the hostile agency. The hostile agency hatched a well thought-out and coordinated conspiracy to divert the attention from their country towards Pakistan.”

According to General Anwar, 180 people suspected of involvement in the Jaranwala attacks had been arrested, including three main suspects. He did not give a reason why Christians in Jaranwala were also being arrested.

Church of Pakistan President Bishop Azad Marshall condemned the arrests of Christians and described the police chief’s claim as “ludicrous” and an attempt to “bury the facts, as has been the past practice in all such incidents.

“We do not trust the joint investigation teams formed by the government, as the police chief’s press conference has laid bare the government’s intention to sweep the facts under the rug. This attitude is unacceptable to Christians.”

Bishop Marshall went on to say that “Instead of investigating the underlying reasons of such attacks and addressing the root cause, i.e. misuse of the harsh blasphemy laws, the police are arresting and harassing innocent Christians and trying to cover up the truth behind the violent attacks in Jaranwala by blaming foreign intelligence.”

Rev Khalid Mukhtar of the Catholic church in Jaranwala confirmed that at least twenty Christians had been taken into police custody. “We have filed petitions in the high court for their release and managed to free 14 persons. These people were related to the family of the two accused brothers as well as two other Christians whom the police are blaming for desecrating the Koran that led to mob attacks.”

Police and local Muslims are intimidating Jaranwala’s Christians to prevent them from filing charges against the rioters according to reports the Catholic priest has received.

 (Morning Star News)

Images: Morning Star News