ISLAMABAD: A sequence of rising aggressive uprising against Christians in Pakistan, over the past decade has worried the Human Rights Watchers as well as the Religious Minorities of Pakistan.
The most recent noxious incident of Badami Bagh; which took place about two months ago, has definitely raised questions about what, if anything can be done to thwart such brutality. The Badami Bagh incident, when a fuming mob set on fire a Christian quarter, Joseph Colony in Lahore, was a resonance of a comparable incident in the countryside town of Gojra almost four years back. As a consequence, nine people were killed when the mob torched two Christian neighborhoods over rumors that “the Christians had celebrated a wedding by showering the groom with pages torn from the Quran.” Notwithstanding hundreds of arrests, no one has been tried for the Gojra riots yet, whereas, the relatives of the victims have now abandoned Pakistan.
However, in 2009, the Punjab government asked a senior judge to investigate how to prevent incidents like the one in Gojra. The judge subsequently, interviewed nearly 600 witnesses, including senior politicians and intelligence officials, compiling a 318-page report clearly explicating who was responsible for the aggression. Although, the full report was not publicized until recently – nearly four years after the riots.
The report accuses members of Pakistan Muslim League-N, lately elected to power, and advocates that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws be reformed to put off future violence. According to the report, the Inter services Intelligence (ISI) and local intelligence agencies knew banned extremist groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba were organizing the mobs, yet authorities did not take preventative action.
“Everything could have been avoided, if the local administration did what they were supposed to do,” says Mehboob Khan, who headed fact-finding trips to Gojra for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.Similar to the riot in Lahore earlier this year, Mr. Khan says police had several days to curtail growing threats from Muslim extremists in Gojra.
On July 30, 2009, members of Sipah-e-Sahaba led a mob that burned down the entire village of Korian over the blasphemy accusation. The next day, preachers at three local mosques used their Friday sermons to demand that Gojra’s Christian community – some 40,000 people – be expelled. They announced rallies the next day. The next day, busloads of seminary students from the nearby town of Jhang – a radical Sunni stronghold – joined the rallies, which were addressed by local PML-N leaders and preachers from Sipah-e-Sahaba. As said by the report, police that were believed to guard the Christians told them to flee, before leaving the scene themselves. “At the height of the riot, they [the police] were nowhere to be seen,” recalls Bishop Samuel a local Anglican priest.
Additionally the two police commanders that departed from the scene as the throng torched Christian homes were suspended for a few months, nevertheless cleared by a subsequent departmental investigation. While, the PML-N leader that had helped lead the Muslim mobs has been elected to the provincial assembly in elections earlier this month.
In the years ever since the riots, the Punjab government has reconstructed the hundreds of homes that had been torched in Gojra. While, Christians in the area maintain everything has gone back to normal.
Despite the fact that it does not call for abolishing the blasphemy laws utterly, the Gojra report does recommends eliminating certain protections for Muslims, and passing laws to deject fabricated cases. The Human Rights groups on the other hand say that most of the blasphemy charges are time and again rooted in clashes over money or property. “People didn’t believe the law was being misused [before],” says Khan, “but slowly … they are starting to see examples of it.” Even as a teen age Christian girl Rimsha Masih was allegedly accused of blasphemy last year, the case was heared by the same judge who has earlier conducted the Gojra incident inquiry. Pointing out to the lack of potential evidence against the accused, the judge quashed the case, decreeing the accuser’s arrest in its place.