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Police in Pakistan Downplay Signs of Arson in Fire at Christian TV Station

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Sarfraz William of Gawahi cable TV channel is interviewed following fire at station office. (Morning Star News via Gawahi Facebook)

Sarfraz William of Gawahi cable TV channel is interviewed following fire at station office. (Morning Star News via Gawahi Facebook)

Islamist threats, broken locks, witness statements discounted

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Police are downplaying several signs pointing to arson in a fire reported at 3 a.m. on Tuesday (Nov. 24) at the office of a Christian cable TV station in Karachi, sources said.

Gawahi Television chief Sarfraz William said the fire at the popular Christian channel’s office in Akhtar Colony was an act of sabotage. William said he suspected arson because computers and other instruments were damaged, probably as a result of some chemical being thrown on them, while wooden materials in the office remained unscathed. Computer hard disks were also stolen.

Station personnel had received threats from suspected Islamic militants who warned the station to stop preaching Christianity, William said. Other local sources told Morning Star News that residents of the building complex had seen masked men fleeing the site after setting fire to the building, statements police initially put aside.

Another station official told NBC News that the channel’s security camera had been stolen, probably prior to the fire. The channel’s two-room office is located on the first floor of a residential building.

Action Committee for Human Rights (ACHR) Coordinator William Sadiq told Morning Star News said that unidentified men broke into the locked Gawahi TV office and set computers, Christian literature and office records on fire.

“Police officials are claiming that the fire could be the result of a short circuit, but they are at a loss to explain how the locks were broken,” he said.

He added that witnesses who saw men fleeing the office would have difficulty identifying them because the assailants’ faces were covered.

Sadiq said the fire alarmed the sizeable Christian community in the area.

“Pakistan’s largest church, St. Peter’s, is also located nearby,” he said. “The church holds a Mass of nearly 5,000 worshippers at a time, and the burning of Gawahi TV has caused immense concern among them.”

Gawahi TV has never spread propaganda against believers of other faiths, Sadiq said, adding that law enforcement officials were “trying to brush the matter under the carpet.”

Mehmoodabad Police Chief Inspector Sarwar Commando told Morning Star News that Fire Brigade officials said an initial probe determined the fire resulted from a short circuit.

“The fire was caused by a short circuit,” Commando said. “Although the TV management is claiming that they were under threat by suspected militants, the organization had never reported any security threats to the police prior to this incident.”

But Muhammad Bashir of the Mehmoodabad Fire Brigade told Morning Star News that fire officials had yet to write a preliminary report on the incident.

“We haven’t finalized our report as yet, so it would be premature to say what caused the fire at the channel’s office,” he said, declining to reveal further details.

Police Chief Inspector Commando said police have taken note of local residents’ statements that they saw masked men near the premises, and that police would obtain CCTV footage from the nearby St. Peter’s church to investigate the claims.

The ACHR’s Sadiq rejected police assertions that the incident was caused by a short circuit.

Gawahi TV, established in February 2013 as a joint venture of Catholic and Protestant churches, aims to “spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to people of all religions who live in Pakistan.” The channel broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and William said it has a viewership of more than 12 million in Pakistan and abroad.

The Rev. John Arif of the Catholic Diocese of Karachi said that it was disheartening to see the entire building and all equipment burned.

“The channel was set up to communicate the Word of God,” he said. “There have been threats, and now the matter is under investigation. We hope to soon see the channel on air again. We pray for peace and tolerance.”

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