Church elder sets place of worship on fire in Pakistan
Church elder and treasurer Zubair Akhtar Khokhar confessed to deliberately setting the church building on fire in Lahore on the 16th of November. Zubair initially blamed it on a Muslim extremist group, however, police confronted him with CCTV evidence on the 18th of November.
Congregation members were shocked to learn the truth a month after the pastor received a letter threatening them for worshipping too loudly. The fire destroyed the church altar, a cupboard containing Bibles and other Christian books, two air conditioning units and furniture, among other items.
According to Reverend Samuel Massey, pastor of Gulberg Presbyterian Church in Lahore: “Zubair was taken into custody after footage retrieved from the church’s security cameras showed him entering and exiting the building at the time of the incident. No other person was seen entering the building after Zubair. He also admitted that he had faked the threat letter from an Islamist group to scare me into quitting my position. When he failed to see the desired result, he decided to burn the church and pin the blame on the alleged Islamist outfit to show that the threat to my life was real.”
Local police filed a case against Zubair under Sections 295 and 436 of the Pakistan Penal Code, charging him with “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” which can be punishable by three years imprisonment or fine, or both.
Reverend Massey added that other church elders had been suspicious of Zubair and had limited his roles as treasurer: “Zubair was questioned by the police on Friday night because he was the only person, who by his own admission, had unlocked the gate and after some time reported the fire incident to me on the phone. We are all deeply pained by this act, but as Christians, we will continue to pray for God’s mercy for Zubair. He says he’s remorseful for what he has done, but for now, the law will have to take its course.”
Other church leaders and members of the community expressed their concerns and deep embarrassment. They all agreed that this incident put Pakistani Christians in an unfavourable situation.
“It’s shameful, to say the least. It’s a pity that some Christians are now faking persecution to achieve their personal objectives. They don’t realize that their actions are detrimental to the community’s security and undermine true persecution.” said Bishop Azad Marshall, president of the Church of Pakistan.