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Christians sites to be razed for Pakistan railway

by Hannah Tooley

A Christian anti-persecution charity is warning a number of religious heritage sites are going to be demolished so that a train line can be installed.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide is warning that the Orange Line Metro project has already displaced hundreds of people and will affect thousands more.

It is thought that at least 25 sites, including Shalimar Gardens, a world heritage site, will be impacted or destroyed despite being protected by law.

Several places of worship and sacred sites could also demolished including St Andrews Church, Naulakha Presbyterian Church, Cathedral Church of the Resurrection and the Mominpura Graveyard - an area important to the Lahore Shi'a community.

These buildings and sites are protected under the National Antiquities Act 1975.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide said: "CSW is deeply concerned that these communities will lose their homes and livelihoods, while also facing the potential loss of religious heritage sites.

"This is a blow at a time when religious minorities are in a particularly weak position in Pakistan.

"It is clear that in the planning and construction of this train line, the Punjab government is in contravention of various legislation regarding cultural heritage, as well as international covenants protecting cultural rights and the right to freedom of religion or belief.

"We urge the Punjab Government to enter into dialogue with the affected communities in order to ensure that the civil and cultural rights of these citizens are upheld."

CSW is urging action as it says local businesses and community life will also be destroyed alongside churches, schools, mosques and hospitals.
The Orange Line Metro Train project is due to be completed by October 2017.

It will cost around £1.23 billion, and the government says only a few thousand people will be affected.

Farida Shaheed, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights said: "As the first United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, I have stressed the importance of cultural heritage as a human right and essential component of the cultural life of people.

"I am therefore shocked that the 27 km Orange train project in Lahore threatens at least 27 well known cultural heritage sites - one for every kilometre."
"People living and working in these areas will have their entire livelihoods and ways of cultural life disrupted.

"The destruction and harm to these sites violates the right of residents and Pakistanis in general of hugely significant parts of their cultural heritage, which is an essential part of people's cultural identities.

"The government must remember and abide by its legal obligations under the international treaties to respect and protect people's cultural heritage, and uphold the rights of full participation of the concerned people in decision-making about all policies enshrined in these covenants and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Local activists are angry that no compensation has been paid to the majority of those who have been displaced since November 2015 and they say what little has been paid has not be shared fairly.

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