Bahawalpur authorities have arrested at least eight pastors during last year. These pastors were arrested for running house churches, as running houses churches have been legally banned by the local authorities. Conducting worship services in house churches on Sundays has been prohibited by the authorities.
UK-based charity British Pakistani Christian Association reveals that at least eight pastors were arrested during 2016. These arrests were carried out as the pastors were allegedly conducting Sunday worship services in house churches. The authorities had banned Sunday worship services in house churches, as a result of complaints from local Muslims. The complainants maintained that services in houses churches were disturbing them.
In October 2016, the rules prohibiting Sunday worship services in house churches surfaced. Under these rules it was also required that churches cannot be built within 200 meters from any mosque. The rules also prohibit establishment of a church within 100 meters away from Muslim residential area. Christians can only hold Sunday worship services in church buildings and use of loudspeakers in churches has been proscribed.
The pastors arrested on charges of conducting Sunday worship services in house churches were later released on bail. Those arrested include, Reverend Arslan-ul-Haq, Reverend Munir Masih from Gospel of Salvation Church, Reverend Arshad Baghicha from Kings Jesus Pentecostal Church, Reverend Javad Veru from Pentecostal Church, Reverend Mubashir Maqsood from United Presbysterian Church Pakistan, Reverend Patras Nawab Gill, Reverend Shoukat Masih and Reverend Arshad Rehmat from Gospel of Salvation Church.
Consequently, church leaders in Bahawalpur initiated a petition urging the Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister of Pakistan Ahsan Iqbal to take notice of the situation. Christians are calling upon the leadership to protect their right of worship which is at imperiled as a result of the controversial rules introduced last year.
They claim that these rules prohibiting Sunday worship services in house churches and other such restrictions are inconsistent with the “guarantees provided to religious minorities in constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Remarking about the situation, Wilson Chowdhry Chairman of British Pakistani Christian Association said that: “Draconian measures such as these are not new. Churches in Karachi and Badhami Bagh in Pakistan have both previously had to sign contracts, declaring they will not hold services at times that are offensive to Muslims, that they will divide seating for women and men and will not speak the name of Christ in the streets or allow music to permeate the environment and negatively impact on the sensitivities of Muslims.”
BPCA Chairman further said that the church related decree “goes further than these previous coerced local contracts.” He went on to say that: “In fact, this authoritative control by Islamic extremists within a district authority illustrates a significant regression in policy within a government structure. The ordinance breaches Article 18 of the Human Rights Convention, which Pakistan has ratified, and existing equality and freedom of faith provisions within the constitution of Pakistan.”