ACLJ’s Ministry of Presence Brings Another Victory for Christian Family in Pakistan
At the ACLJ, I have heard the phrase “ministry of presence” many times in the last 14 years of my work. This ministry of presence (being in a position to take action when and where no one else can) cannot be more vividly evident than in the case we just won, again, this time on appeal.
We started our legal aid affiliate office in Pakistan about 14 years ago. One of the very first cases we took on was Samuel Masih v. Niaz Ahmed Jutt. Unlike the usual cases of persecution involving blasphemy, murder, rape, etc., this case involved a land dispute between a Christian family and a Muslim family.
Samuel Masih (now deceased) owned about 12.5 acres of land in Burewala, Pakistan. Samuel was unique in that most Christians do not own such amounts of land. Before Samuel, his father was allotted the land by the Pakistani government for agricultural purposes. After his father’s death, the land passed to Samuel and his brothers, who had leased the land to their Muslim neighbor Niaz Ahmed Jutt (also now deceased) and Ahmed’s sons as tenants to farm the land.
In 2001, Samuel gave power of attorney to Niaz Ahmed to handle matters related to the land with relevant government departments that deal with agricultural land. In 2009, Ahmed fraudulently used the power of attorney to transfer the ownership of the land to his sons.
We had just started our office in Lahore, and the Masih family was put in touch with our team there. The Masih family could not afford to fight legal battles to take their land back. Further, land disputes and personal grudges sometimes lead to false blasphemy accusations. So, we agreed to represent Samuel and his family.
Pakistani law, which is primarily based on English common law, does not allow the holder of the power of attorney to use it for his own benefit. Here, that is exactly what happened. Ahmed had used the power of attorney to transfer the ownership of the property to his sons. He did not even claim that he purchased the land from the Masihs, as there was no money paid to them.
In 2010, we filed a lawsuit against Ahmed and his sons to reclaim the land for the Masihs. We made three claims in that case: (1) Ahmed obtained the broader power of attorney through fraud, and therefore the transfer of land was invalid; (2) even if the court upheld Ahmed’s general power of attorney, he still had a duty to obtain the Masih brothers’ consent before acting for his own benefit; and (3) Ahmed could not transfer the land rights because the deed prohibited any transfers for 15 years.
The lawsuit dragged on for several years due to Ahmed’s repeated attempts to delay the case—a common tactic in Pakistan. After a decade of legal proceedings, in May 2021, the court finally ruled in the Masih brothers’ favor. But Ahmed appealed.
Last week, the appellate court also agreed with us and upheld the trial court’s decision, holding that the transfer of land ownership by Ahmed to his sons was illegal.
While Samuel could not enjoy the use of his property for many years, his sons will ultimately prevail and will soon enjoy their forefathers’ land. Thirteen years is a long time to be fighting for a case. But not many Christian families have that much land or the resolve to fight for their rights. Samuel’s sons thanked the ACLJ’s ministry of presence and for fighting on their behalf for over a decade. By having an office in Pakistan, we have been able to help countless Christian families. That is the ministry of presence in action.
Now we are preparing to file for execution of the judgment. We will also be asking the court to order compensation for loss of revenue for the years that the land was fraudulently in Ahmed’s possession. Ahmed’s sons will likely appeal in the High Court, and we are ready to respond to that appeal. We are determined not to give up until the Masihs’ rights have been vindicated.