Pakistan’s neo-Christian groups face state harassment – UCA News

Pakistan’s neo-Christian groups face state harassment – UCA News

Around 300 pastors, Sunday school teachers and charities have been issued a summons by the Federal Investigation Agency

Pakistani Christians hold candles as they offer prayers during an Easter service on the rooftop of their house during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the coronavirus, in Islamabad on April 12, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 12, 2023 10:23 AM GMT

Updated: April 12, 2023 10:30 AM GMT

Independent neo-Christian churches in Faisalabad city of Pakistan’s Punjab province complain of harassment after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) began a probe into their financial dealings.

Some 300 people including pastors, Sunday school teachers and officials of charities were served notices last month, Christian leaders told a media conference on April 6.

The notice said those facing the probe are suspected to be “involved in money laundering” and they should personally present the details of their financial details at the agency’s offices in Faisalabad.

The details include the source of income, bank details, and proof of tax paid in the past five years besides personal and business details.

Pakistan’s Anti Money Laundering Act enacted in 2010 aims to combat the financing of terror activities. It stipulates a sentence of up to 10 years in jail along and a fine of five million rupees (some US$61,000) for those convicted under the law.

Pastor Rauf Shad said he and his daughter received the notice on March 24. They work among brick kiln workers and the ongoing construction of a Pentecostal church in the Warispura area of Faisalabad, home to 4,000 Christians.

“They could have called me alone being the head of the institution. A police constable in plain clothes threatened to arrest me and said two of my daughters will be summoned in case of my absence,” Shad told UCA News.

The pastor said he was asked to share details of the tithe he receive from Christians and details of beneficiaries of his work.

“I have never been so afraid in my four years of pastoral work,” he said while expressing his fear of getting arrested in front of neighbors and acquaintances.

Officials of Minorities Alliance Pakistan, a Christian group working to protect the interest of religious minorities, said they plan to resist the “harassment of Christians.”

Akmal Bhatti, the alliance’s president, told a press conference at the Faisalabad Press Club on April 6 they will help pastors face it legally.

Bhatti told UCA News that he met some pastors to persuade them to sign a complaint. They plan to file the complaint in Lahore High Court next week.

In case they failed, the Catholic lawyer said, “The only other option for us is to appear in court as accused.”

“Some corrupt officials are hunting them like bloodthirsty wolves. The families of the pastors, including young daughters, are being harassed,” he said.

Bhatti said Christians in Pakistan were a peaceful people and none among them was involved in terror activities. The small funds the church organizations have are meant for running schools, and helping the needy like the flood victims, he added.

Father Khalid Rashid Asi, the parish priest of Holy Rosary Church in the Madina Town area of Faisalabad, said a number of independent ministries and pastors had mushroomed with funds flowing in from foreign sources.

The agency has not “targeted mainstream churches and their institutions,” he said.

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