ISLAMABAD: A string of fierce riots against Pakistani Christians over the span of past ten years has alarmingly concerned human rights watchers and religious minorities in Pakistan.
The latest noxious incident of Jospeh Colony in the Badami Bagh area of Lahore, about two months ago, posed many questions about what, if anything can be done to avert this series of violence.
The March incident when an entire Christian neighbourhood in Lahore was torched by a Muslim mob was a resonance of a parallel incident in Gojra about four years earlier. Nine people were killed when rioters torched two Christian neighbourhoods.
Followed by the Gojra incident, the Punjab government instigated a senior judge to come up with ways to prevent incidents like the one in Gojra. During his research, the judge interviewed just about 600 witnesses, as well as senior politicians and intelligence officials. He furnished a 318-page report with minute details such as; who was responsible for the aggression. However the complete report was not made public until recently.
The report incriminates specific members of Pakistan Muslim League-N, the political party elected to power just recently. It suggests reformation in the blasphemy laws; so as to effectually thwart potential violence. It dramatically reveals that the Inter services Intelligence (ISI) and local intelligence agencies always got wind beforehand, which the banned extremist groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba were organizing the mobs, yet no action was taken to prevent the violence.
“Everything could have been avoided, if the local administration did what they were supposed to do,” says Mehboob Khan, head of the scrutinizing teams of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “Police had several days to curtail growing threats from Muslim extremists,” he said.
Bishop John Samuel, head of an Anglican community in Gojra, says,” local police should have stopped the meetings and arrested those calling for more violence. There had already been one fire, why did the police allow these meetings?” he asks.
According to the report, police that were supposed to protect the Christians told them to flee, before leaving the scene themselves. “At the height of the riot, the police were nowhere to be seen,” recalls Bishop Samuel.
Peter Jacob, Head of the minority rights group National Council for Justice and Peace, says the witnesses were thoroughly threatened into silence.
The two alleged police officials, who fled from the scene while the mobs torched Christian homes were consequently suspended for a few months, although cleared by a successive departmental enquiry. The political leader from PML-N, who had been accomplice with the mobs, is of late elected to the Provincial Assembly in the May elections.
“People didn’t believe the law was being misused, but slowly they are starting to see examples of it,” says Mehboob Khan.
The high profiled blasphemy case of Rimsha Masih was heard by the same judge who carried out the Gojra inquiry. Referring to lack of substantial evidence, the judge turned down the case, ordering the accused to be released while ordering the accuser’s arrest instead.