- Leaders of churches and the human rights commission in Pakistan are requesting a comprehensive investigation into the recent outbreak of anti-Christian violence in Jaranwala.
- This unrest, marked by illegal arrests of local Christians and a perplexing claim of a “foreign conspiracy” by the police, has ignited concerns among various quarters.
The turmoil unfolded when extremist elements associated with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), an Islamist party, incited violent mobs of Muslims to attack churches and Christian residences in Jaranwala tehsil, situated in the Faisalabad District. The trigger for this violence was the accusation of blasphemy against two Christian brothers on August 16. Multiple churches were set ablaze, while the properties and businesses of Christians were subjected to looting for an extended period. The inaction of the police during this chaos prompted global condemnation.
In an unexpected turn, Punjab Police Inspector General (IG) Usman Anwar asserted during a press conference that the Jaranwala riots and the desecration of the Quran in Sargodha on August 19-20 were part of a conspiracy orchestrated by Indian officials to divert attention from India’s mistreatment of Christians. Church of Pakistan President Bishop Azad Marshall swiftly dismissed this claim as “ludicrous” and accused Anwar of attempting to cover up the facts, echoing a pattern observed in similar incidents.
Marshall criticized the police’s approach, emphasizing that instead of addressing the root cause of such attacks – the misuse of stringent blasphemy laws – they were arresting and intimidating innocent Christians while placing blame on foreign intelligence. This insinuation, according to Marshall, unfairly paints impoverished Christians as Indian spies, endangering the entire community.
In response, Marshall submitted a petition to the Lahore High Court, seeking the establishment of a judicial commission. The purpose of this commission would be to investigate all aspects of the attacks, hold negligent police and district administration officials accountable, and formulate measures to protect Christians from mob violence. Marshall lamented the lack of proactive measures to prevent incidents like Jaranwala, highlighting similar episodes in Shantinagar, Gojra, and Joseph Colony.
Marshall further expressed concerns about the arrests of Christians in Jaranwala, viewing them as attempts to intimidate victims from pressing charges against the rioters. He expressed hope that the Lahore High Court would take their petition seriously, as they had lost trust in government-formed joint investigation teams, especially in light of the police chief’s attempt to downplay the incident.
Akmal Bhatti, Chairman of the Minorities Alliance Pakistan (MAP), echoed these sentiments, calling for a judicial inquiry into the violence. Bhatti decried the passive stance of the police as mobs pillaged the possessions of Christians and set their homes ablaze. He denounced IG Anwar’s press conference and urged the state to reevaluate its policies regarding religious extremism and minority security, stating that the “foreign hand” narrative was a mere excuse to deflect from governmental failures.
During his press conference, Anwar claimed to have discovered evidence of a “foreign conspiracy” behind the Jaranwala riots and the alleged Quran desecrations in Sargodha. He implied connections to India’s Research and Analysis Wing, without explicitly naming it. Anwar presented a news article about the mistreatment of Christian women in the Indian state of Manipur and a European Union resolution denouncing injustices against Muslims and other minorities in India as supporting evidence. He confidently declared the dismantling of an “anti-Pakistan network,” expressing hope that such incidents would not occur in the future.
Notably, the police inspector general stated that 180 people, including three primary suspects, had been arrested in connection with the Jaranwala attacks. However, he did not clarify the reasons behind the arrests of Christians or whether they were suspected of being “Indian agents.”
Reverend Khalid Mukhtar, the priest of the Catholic church in Jaranwala, confirmed that over 20 Christians had been unlawfully detained by the police during the week. Mukhtar reported that they had filed petitions for the release of these individuals, succeeding in securing the freedom of 14 of them. These detainees were linked to the family of the accused brothers and two other Christians implicated in the Quran desecration incident.
Additionally, Mukhtar noted that there were reports of police and local Muslims intimidating Christians to prevent them from testifying against the rioters. He expressed frustration at the lack of information about the investigation’s progress and the arbitrary harassment faced by their community.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) voiced suspicions that the Jaranwala riots were not spontaneous but part of a larger campaign against local Christians. In its fact-finding report, the HRCP cited police officers who confirmed the involvement of certain religious groups in stoking communal tensions. The report also highlighted videos showing members of a particular religious political party inciting violence during the attacks, suggesting broader political and social motives behind the violence.
According to witnesses, those responsible for arson did not hail from the city but came from nearby villages. This information bolstered the belief that the attack had been premeditated. The HRCP’s inspection indicated planned arson and deliberate desecration of religious symbols, though the looting of homes appeared to be more opportunistic.
These events have once again highlighted the challenges faced by Christians in Pakistan, a country that has risen to seventh place on the 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, according to Open Doors, up from eighth place the previous year.
Original News Source: Morning Star News