Date: October 1, 2023
Church leader charged with making false allegations, causing unrest.
By Our Pakistan Correspondent
The Rev. Eleazar Sidhu before court hearing in Faisalabad, Pakistan. (Morning Star News screenshot)
LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Police in Pakistan on Friday (Sept. 29) charged a pastor with making false allegations after he admitted that a gunshot wound he had blamed on Islamic extremists was self-inflicted, sources said.
The Rev. Eleazar Sidhu, pastor of a Presbyterian church in Kukranwala village in the Khanuwana area of Jaranwala, Faisalabad District, had filed a case with police alleging that Muslim extremists on Sept. 3 ordered him to recite the Islamic creed and shot him when he refused.
On Sept. 14, however, a termination letter to Pastor Sidhu by the Rev. Altaf Khan on behalf of the Board of the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan appeared on social media stating that he had been suspended from the Presbyterian Myong-Sang Nasreth Church in Kukranwala village on Sept. 13 after he “voluntarily confessed” to colleagues and friends that the injury was self-inflicted.
Pastor Sidhu admitted to “planning this whole act without any fear, duress or pressure,” Pastor Khan stated, adding that the church did not want to make “any conclusions since the matter is sub-judice,” but that it was ending his employment contract and any professional ties with him “until the matter comes to its logical conclusion.”
A video that appeared on social media the next day, Sept. 15, shows Pastor Sidhu making a confession in front of a police officer.
“I did it because of stress. I wanted police protection. I threw the pistol in a canal,” he says in the video.
The officer replies, “Pastor you are a brother. We came when you complained. The doctor has stated that you harmed yourself.”
Karachi-based human rights activist Ghazala Shafique told Morning Star News that Pastor Sidhu said police tortured him physically and mentally into confessing, but a reliable source with Faisalabad police denied it.
“Sidhu’s medical examination showed that his arm had been administered anesthesia before he was shot,” the police source said on the condition of anonymity. “The bullet merely caused a three-inch deep flesh wound on his shoulder, and burn marks caused by gunpowder confirmed suspicion that the gun was fired from a very close range to avoid damage to the bone.”
The officer said the trajectory and angle of the bullet wound was not consistent with the pastor’s statement about the alleged attack.
“The pastor kept changing his statements during investigation, but when he was confronted with the medical report, he confessed that he had planned the act,” the source said. “He told us that a Christian dispenser named Gulfam had injected the anesthesia while his young assistant, Johnson Masih, had held his arm in position so that he could fire the bullet.”
He added that a Muslim who sold the illegal .30-caliber pistol to Pastor Sidhu had also been arrested.
“We haven’t been able to recover the weapon yet, because Sidhu has allegedly thrown it into the canal where the supposed attack took place,” he said.
The officer said that prior to his arrest, Pastor Sidhu, also known as Pastor Vicky, was being kept in protective custody in his house and hadn’t yet been charged when Christian rights advocates, including two flown in from Karachi, Sindh Province, tried to take him from his home in Jaranwala.
“The woman and her accomplice misbehaved with the police guards deployed at Sidhu’s home when they were stopped from taking him outside,” the officer said. “These activists started making live videos in which they instigated Christians against the police and gave the impression that Vicky had been victimized. We briefly detained the two and released them without a charge.”
Rights activist Shafique said she believed Sidhu’s story “because he took an oath on the Bible that he was saying the truth.”
“His family contacted me to intervene, because according to them police had extracted Vicky’s confession forcibly and were keeping him in illegal captivity,” she told Morning Star News. “When I met Vicky, he looked as if he had suffered severe mental torture. He says he’s innocent, and we believe him.”
She insisted that their only objective was to ensure justice for the pastor and his two aides, Johnson and Gulfam.
“We do not trust the medical report or police investigation,” she said. “Pastor Vicky told us that he was tortured physically and mentally to get a confession, which is why we raised a voice against the police brutality.”
She appeared confused, however, when asked about suspicious narratives in Pastor Sidhu’s First Information Report (FIR) and his contradictory statements about the incident.
Lazar Allah Rakha, an attorney who specializes in criminal law who has successfully defended several people accused of blasphemy, said the FIR registered by Pastor Sidhu contains “glaring loopholes.”
“None of his allegations, starting from the writing of Islamist slogans on the wall of his church to being threatened by unknown persons and subsequent assassination attempt, make any sense,” he told Morning Star News.
Rakha said that as a Christian he was shocked when he first heard about the alleged attack on the pastor.
“However, the legal practitioner in me smelled foul play after reading the story narrated by Pastor Vicky in the FIR,” he said. “His claims raised several questions in my mind, including why of all the clergy people, only his church walls were vandalized by Islamists?”
There are 27 churches in the area, and no pastor, including Pastor Sidhu, was involved in pursuing justice for Christians attacked on Aug. 16 in Jaranwala, so he wondered why would any group target him particularly, he said.
“Moreover, how did the assailants know Vicky would stop at the crime scene to pass urine and were already waiting for him?” he said. “His claim that the assailant only asked him to convert and outright shot him when he refused is also incomprehensible. I’ve dealt with hundreds of serious cases, including murders, so I am certain that Vicky staged the attack for reasons best known to him.”
The pastor’s false allegation, followed by unwarranted activism by a handful of Christian rights advocates on social media, diverted attention from persecution in the Jaranwala riots and endorsed the claims of hardline groups that Christians were exploiting blasphemy cases to find asylum in western countries, Rakha said.
Christian leaders said Pastor Sidhu’s act bolstered criticisms by Islamist groups that Christians cite Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to seek asylum abroad. Hundreds of Pakistani Christians in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan and Malaysia are seeking relocation to Western countries citing threats, persecution and lack of security.
“While it’s a fact that blasphemy laws are being grossly misused in Pakistan, it’s unfortunate that Christians seem to be doing the same,” said Adeel Rehmat, chief executive officer of the Pak Mission Society, Pakistan’s leading faith-based humanitarian organization.
Endorsing Rakha’s observation that hype by rights advocates on social media had badly harmed the Christian community’s struggle for justice for Jaranwala victims, Rehmat said that Pastor Sidhu’s fake case has helped police and Islamist groups to divert attention from the riots.
“We are actively involved in the rehabilitation of the victims of the Jaranwala tragedy, so when news of the church writings surfaced, we were naturally concerned,” Rehmat told Morning Star News. “We got particularly worried when Sidhu claimed that he had been attacked, but upon inquiring from several credible sources, we were told that he was lying.”
Pak Mission Society leaders deemed it best let the law take its course and avoid hype, assuming Pastor Sidhu’s case would be dismissed with a fine or some days in prison, but exposure of the case on social media appears to have heightened potential consequences.
Misplaced activism over the case has caused irreparable damage to the legal battle being fought for justice in the Jaranwala rioting, attorney Rakha said.
“The community doesn’t realize that all this hullabaloo over nothing has caused grave damage to all the true cases of persecution,” he said. “It has not only hurt our cause in Pakistan but also tainted the reputation of Pakistani Christians in the West.”
On Saturday (Sept. 30), a judicial magistrate in Faisalabad, Nausheen Umair, granted post-arrest bail on surety bonds worth 100,000 Pakistani rupees (US$347) to Pastor Sidhu, but he will remain in Faisalabad jail on judicial remand until Oct. 14 under Section 16 of the Maintenance of Public Order. A conviction under the false allegations charge could result in a prison term of up to seven years and a fine.
Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from eighth the previous year.