RAHIM YAR KHAN: On April 10, scores of Christians took to streets in Liaqatpur, alleging that the prime 102 marlas of the local church had illegally been bought by a local PML-N leader. They again hit the streets on April 17 in Rahim yar Khan on the issue.

That was the last demonstration on the land sale and since then the community is willfully silent on the issue.

This Dawn correspondent dug into the issue and found several players, including the PML-N leaders, revenue officials and office bearers of a Christian institution, involved in the sale of the land, which violated the Protection of Communal Properties of Minorities Ordinance of 2001 .

The story begins on April 10, 1967 when Christians’ charity ‘Associated Reformed Press Betray’ (ARP) of Montgomery bought five kanals and two marlas from Dr Mehmood through a general power of attorney (GPA), appointed by ARP Rehmat Masih, son of Jugan Nath.

Rehmat Masih established a church at the land and also began medical camps for all communities there. Doctors from Europe would visit medical camps. The church would also host wedding ceremonies and issue birth and death certificates to Christians. In 2004, Rehmat Masih died but the church remained functional until 2012, when two groups of Christians (Roman Catholics and Protestants) started fighting each other for the control of the church. Both sides got registered cases against each other. Some 27 notables of the city had to intervene and they calmed down both sides.

In 2013, ARP moderator Issac Binyamin filed an application in the office of Rahim Yar Khan additional deputy commissioner general (ADCG), stating that Rehmat Masih was the representative of the ARP but hes was mistakenly mentioned as the GPA holder in the land deed, whereas he was only the ARP representative. He pleaded the correction of the record that he with other six members be considered representative of the ARP.

Side by side, a new seven-member ARP Sahiwal body signed a land deal with PML-N leaders Rashid Rafique Chaudhry (now, the Liaquatpur Municipal Committee chairman) and Khalid Rafique Chaudhry (PML-N councilor). Under the deal, the body sold the church land on April 5, 2014 to Rashid and Khalid against Rs11.5 million and got Rs1.7 million in advance.

The seven-member body consisted of Daniel Younus, Samson Sadiq, Issac Binyamin, Hameed Daniel, Akram Masih, Allah Rakha, Arshad Javed and Munnawar Masih.

The sale deal was done even before the decision of the ADCG office regarding the change of name of GPA.

The ADCG ordered the termination of Rehmat Masih as GPA on Nov 19, 2015.

In 2016, both Rashid and Kahlid moved the Liaqatpur civil court seeking the transfer of church land to them as they had paid advance money to the seven-member body.

The court ordered them to pay the remaining money. The paid the money to the body and got the land transferred to them.

As soon as they got the possession of the land, the new owners removed the holy cross from the building which angered the Christians who protested against the land deal.

According to legal experts, the sale of the church land is a violation of the section 3 of the Protection of Communal Properties of Minorities Ordinance of 2001 under which any property used by the minority community for the propose of worship place or collective welfare cannot be sold without the consent of the National Commission for Minorities. Once the commission issues a no-objection certificate, the body can sell the land.

Sahiwal ARP secretary Arshad Javed said that they had sold the property to Rashid and Khalid by adopting legal process. When asked why the Protection of Communal Properties of Minorities Ordinance of 2001 was not invoked in the deal, he chose to remain mum.

Rashid is out of country while his councilor brother Khalid said that they had got court orders into the deal and later Tehsildar Junaid Khan transferred the land on court orders.

He alleged that their political opponents were using Christians against them. He said they had got the possession of five kanals and two marlas and on that land there was no church.

PML-N councilor Saeed Sharif said that it was a bad example of power politics to deprive the minorities of their worship place.

According to some politicians,the majority of the protesters were employees of sanitation branch of the Liaqatpur Municipal Committee and they had been forced to shun protests by the chairman and his councilor brothers.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2017

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